Walker beefs up transportation funding

Roads spared cuts as budget reverses prior raids; critics call plan ‘payback’

By Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel

Madison — At the same time Gov. Scott Walker is proposing deep cuts to education and local governments, he is shoring up the state’s transportation fund with $317 million in new money.

The overall transportation account’s bottom line would remain flat under Walker’s plan, in part because the new funding would be offset by reduced borrowing. Staying even can be considered a victory in a state budget that proposes slashing spending in many areas to close a $3.5 billion shortfall over two years.

“I just am concerned that the transportation budget is not sacrificing too much where all the other folks we deal with are,” said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) during a Monday briefing before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

In all, the Republican governor would spend $5.65 billion on transportation in the next two years, paid with a mix of state funds, federal aid and bonding.

Most of the new money – almost $257 million – would be generated by using the state’s main account to help the transportation fund. That move would reverse the trend set by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who drained $1.3 billion from the transportation account to help the general fund.

Critics cite donations

Walker’s funding plan brought criticism from those who note the road-building industry gave heavily to his campaign last year.

“It looks like the road builders got everything they could dream of in this budget,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of the environmental group 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin.

“If you help get your friends in office and they do you favors, I don’t know what else you could call it if not payback.”

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