- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 9

Walker’s budget falls short on roads

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is right about the transportation budget offered this week by Gov. Scott Walker: It just kicks the can down the road, putting off key decisions and ensuring that future generations will be footing the bill for that mistake.

Yes, there are some reasonable measures in Walker’s proposed budget, such as delaying the expansion of I-94 in Milwaukee between the Zoo and Marquette interchanges. That stretch will need to be widened eventually, but we’re not convinced that it’s an urgent need.

The larger problem is that Walker’s administration continues to fail to come to grips with the state’s overall needs on roads, bridges, transit and rail. Given that many roads are reaching the end of their projected life, that the current gasoline tax and registration fees are unable to keep up with the cost of maintenance and new lanes and that many millennials are changing the way they travel, the state needs a smarter strategy.

When the roof needs fixing, you fix the roof. And sometimes you take another job or somehow bring in more money to fix it. Walker prefers to delay and borrow, a practice that won’t help the roads or the economy that relies on those roads to get people to jobs and products to market.

Walker apparently tossed aside a possible compromise on raising the gas tax that seemed within reach. He undoubtedly hopes that repeating his mantra of no tax hikes will help his re-election campaign next year: “Why in the world would we want to raise taxes?” he said Thursday. But he needs to understand that voters will remember hitting all the potholes on their way to the polling place.

Other Republicans have a clearer view of the challenge and are willing to make some tough choices: “I think it’s definitely possible that we’re going to look at a gas tax, we’re going to look at registration fee increases, we’re going to look at tolling,” Vos said. “It is not responsible for us just to continue to kick the can down the road and put more and more spending on the state’s credit card.”

On this one, Vos has the better argument. Here’s hoping the rest of the Legislature agrees as it takes up the governor’s budget.


Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 12

Lawmakers have some work to do on state budget

In his final state budget before facing another election, Gov. Scott Walker is proposing significant investment in Wisconsin’s public schools and universities.

That’s a welcome change from his past state spending plans that cut funding for K-12 and higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The governor also wants to hold the line on property taxes while expanding high-speed internet in rural areas, giving state workers a decent raise, helping the homeless, and keeping crucial road projects on track.

All of that is good. The Legislature should support those priorities as it dissects and adjusts the governor’s $76.1 billion, two-year state budget that begins July 1.

Unfortunately, spending in the governor’s budget is $370 million more than revenue, according to the Department of Administration. And it creates an estimated $738 million funding gap two years from now that state leaders will have to fix after the 2018 election.

That’s partly because the governor packs a lot of new spending and tax cuts into the second year of his budget, without a clear way to pay for it moving forward. And part of his plan is built on shaky assumptions.

The governor hopes to save $60 million, for example, by self-insuring state workers. But previous studies warned that idea could increase cost instead. If savings don’t materialize, Walker would scale back his increase to schools.

One easy item to remove from the governor’s budget request is a gimmicky sales tax holiday to save more than $11 million in state revenue.

We’re very happy to see the Republican governor wants to keep the vital Verona Road (Highway 151) road construction project on track southwest of Madison’s Beltline. The busy route serves some of the state’s fastest growing businesses, commuters and cross-state trucks. His budget also continues the important expansion of Interstate 39-90 from Madison to Beloit.

But more broadly, the governor has failed again to propose a sustainable funding system for roads. Debt payments are eating up more and more of the transportation budget, and the governor proposes borrowing an additional $500 million.

Walker has refused to raise the state gas tax or vehicle registration fee, even though they’ve been flat for a decade. He also has resisted new sources of revenue that reflect modern times. No-stop tolling on the interstates could bring in money from Illinois tourists, while mileage-based fees would collect contributions from battery-powered cars.

More fuel-efficient vehicles mean motorists are paying less tax than in the past. At the same time, the Department of Transportation has underestimated the rising cost of construction.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and the GOP-run Assembly have taken a stand for fiscal responsibility on transportation issues. They shouldn’t back down.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is floating tax cuts for utilities and certain business property - paid for with some of the money the governor would steer to schools. That’s the wrong priority. The Legislature is already exempting manufacturers and farmers from most state income taxes at much higher cost than expected.

Lawmakers have a lot of work to do in the coming months. They should prioritize schools and universities, as the governor has, without jeopardizing future budgets.


The Journal Times of Racine, Feb. 11

Fishing, hunting groups step up to the plate

“Tax us more, please.”

Those special-interest groups are at it again, staking out their positions as the state Legislature gets ready to deal with the proposed budget Gov. Scott Walker unveiled last week.

And their message on any tax or fee increases was, of course … wait, what was their message? They want to pay MORE?

Yes, that was, in fact, the recommendation from a coalition of hunting, fishing and conservation groups across Wisconsin who petitioned the governor to raise state fishing and hunting fees to help close a budget shortfall in the state Department of Natural Resources.

The groups urged the governor to jack up a variety of fishing and hunting fees to raise $4.12 million in additional revenue for the state agency, according to a news report from former Journal Times reporter Paul Smith in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

They asked for six fee hikes, including a boost of $3 in archery and gun deer licenses to $27 that would raise $1.75 million; a boost of $5 in the for the inland trout stamp and the Great Lakes salmon and trout stamps to $15 to raise $1.38 million; and increases in the bear tag, state waterfowl stamp and otter fees of $5 to $8 to raise about another $1 million.

To which the governor and the state Legislature should respond “thank you very much,” and then look closely at their proposals.

Tax hikes and fee hikes may be not be part of the mantra of state Republicans who view it as the third rail of getting re-elected, but these groups aren’t worried about Election Day. They’re worried about protecting the state’s natural hunting and fishing resources and making sure they’re there to be enjoyed for decades to come and not just the next election cycle.

Yes, in a sense, that is self-serving - the groups are made up of those who fish, hunt and trap - but it is also state-serving.

“The hunters, trappers and anglers of Wisconsin are once again stepping forward and asking you, our public representatives, to increase these fees in order to provide for the future of the sporting lifestyles we love,” the groups wrote.

Signatories to the fee-increase petition included: Ducks Unlimited, Federation of Great Lakes Sports Fishermen, National Wild Turkey Federation (Wisconsin Chapter), Pheasants Forever; Quality Deer Management Association; Ruffed Grouse Society; Safari Club International (Wisconsin chapters), Trout Unlimited, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Wisconsin Trappers Association, Wisconsin Waterfowl Association and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The fee increases would blunt a projected $4 million annual funding deficit in the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Account that was reported in December and support programs and activities that have been curtailed by the state agency.

The groups who relish the Wisconsin outdoors and want to maintain those resources are willing to step up and pay to protect them. They deserve a round of applause for that and the Legislature should accept their “demand” to help do that.

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