Transportation Budget Request Would Drain Resources from Schools and Communities
The head of Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation has proposed diverting resources usually used to build strong schools, communities, and health care systems, and use the money instead to construct and repair highways.
The Secretary of Transportation has recommended that that lawmakers transfer $548 million from the state’s general fund to the transportation program in the state’s upcoming two-year budget. This proposed transfer would shortchange important priorities supported by the general fund, such as keeping higher education affordable and helping workers get the training they need.
In each of the last several budgets, lawmakers have increased the resources transferred away from the general fund to support transportation programs. If lawmakers transfer the $548 million requested for the state’s next budget, there will be a net gain to transportation programs of $862 million over fourteen years, and a net loss to the general fund of that same amount.
At the ballot box this fall, voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibits lawmakers transferring money out of the state transportation fund to use for other public services. But the amendment does nothing to prohibit transfers such as the one proposed by the Secretary of Transportation, which would move money into the transportation fund.
In addition to diverting money from the general fund, the Secretary of Transportation has requested that lawmakers increase gas taxes and fees by $751 million to provide additional resources to transportation.
The Department of Transportation has asked lawmakers to approve these two major new sources of revenue – resources diverted from the general fund, and new taxes and fees – because there isn’t nearly enough money in the state’s transportation fund to pay for road building and repair projects at the current level. One way to help address the shortfall would be to reevaluate the state’s transportation programs. Wisconsin spends a lot of money on new highway expansion programs, even as the number of highway miles Wisconsin drivers travel has dropped. By cutting back on highway expansions, we could free up money to repair and maintain our transportation network, and reduce overall costs at the same time.
The needs of Wisconsin’s schools and communities already far exceed the amount of revenue the state is projected to take in during the next budget period. To address the gap, lawmakers are likely to make harmful spending cuts that reduce economic opportunities for child and families. They should not exacerbate the damage by draining additional resources from the general fund.