It is becoming increasingly clear that transportation will be the big issue in the upcoming state budget debate. And the Bike Fed will be part of the discussion.
At a hearing before the state Assembly Transportation Committee this past week the factions laid out their arguments. In the middle was state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, who testified and was grilled by the committee for three hours.
Under questioning Gottlieb said that at the current rate of spending Wisconsin’s roads and highways would deteriorate, with the rate of substandard pavement roughly doubling over the next ten years.
Some powerful legislators, like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and Joint Finance Co-Chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) argue for transportation tax increases to pay for repair of existing roads as well as expansions of major highways. In fact, Vos went so far as to put together a pretty powerful and even entertaining video about what it’s like to ride in the back of an ambulance on roads that are in need of repair.
Others, like Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) join Governor Scott Walker in opposing any tax increase at all unless it can be offset by tax cuts somewhere else. That seems unlikely as the state is projecting a deficit in its general fund.
On the sidelines are minority party Democrats who have staked out a position in favor of transportation tax increases but opposed to more borrowing, which has been the go-to solution in recent budgets.
At this point it seems unlikely that Vos and his allies will have enough votes for tax increases within the Republican caucusses, even though the GOP holds both the Assembly and Senate by wide margins. That could mean that Democrats will be invited to the table so that they can supply the votes to get to a majority.
But even if a bipartisan transportation bill could be passed, it would still face an almost certain veto by the governor as long as it contained tax increases.
How’s it all going to play out? Nobody knows, but the Bike Fed will be there looking out for the interests of the cycling public as the debate rages on. Look for the governor to officially introduce his budget in February and for the process to grind on through the spring and early summer. Of course, we’ll keep you updated and ask for your help through action alerts as needed.
In the meantime, below find the testimony that I offered on behalf of the Bike Fed before the committee this week:
I served on the Wisconsin Transportation Finance & Policy Commission. It was a pleasure to serve and the final report “Keep Wisconsin Moving” issued in January, 2013 is a very good document. Secretary Mark Gottlieb chaired the panel with an even hand, DOT staff provided excellent information, and all the members came to the table in a spirit of cooperation.
Here are the elements of the report that I hope you will support for inclusion as part of the next transportation budget.
• An annual increase in bicycle and pedestrian funding of $10 million.
• Allowing local governments to form regional transit authorities.
• Additional funding for transit of $36.3 million per year.
• Creation of a state transit capital program at $15 million per year.
The report also called for increased local road aids and increased investment in road maintenance and repair. These investments are good for Wisconsin drivers, economic development and for cyclists, whether they are commuting to work, riding to complete errands or riding for recreation and exercise.
The Wisconsin biking industry adds $1.5 billion to our economy and accounts for about 14,000 jobs. Moreover, our paved road network is the envy of the world. Both younger residents and an aging population are looking for freedom of transportation choice: sometimes driving, but also having the option to reach their destination by walking, cycling, or using public transportation.
At the Bike Fed we believe that the most basic of transportation budget principles is the simple freedom to choose a safe and convenient mode to get you where you need and want to go.
Thank you for your consideration.
The Wisconsin Bike Fed