Highways Debt Up 87% Under Walker
Republicans have added nearly $3 billion in debt, want to add $700 million more.
The following paragraph does not include typos.
Highway debt service has grown 87 per cent — in a mere seven years — since Republicans assumed control of Wisconsin state government. Here are the numbers: $278 million in FY 2011; $521 million in FY 18 (sources: Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Legislative Fiscal Bureau).
Those staggering amounts continue a borrowing binge initiated under the Doyle administration. For a visual look, check out Chart F-41 on page 74 of this report (shown below).
A group of Senate Republicans, including state Sen Duey Stroebel, believe this unprecedented borrowing embodies a “conservative” approach to financing highway construction. After approving new highway debt of almost $3 billion since taking control of state government, they want to add $700 million more in 2017-19.
The reward for this credit card spree has been a continued erosion in funds available for highways and other transportation programs.
There’s more. Doyle, and now Walker and the Republicans, are so hooked on highway debt they have needed to resort to the general fund to finance a portion of the burgeoning sums.
When Doyle took office the cost to the general fund of highway debt was precisely ZERO. After launching a program of highway debt backed by the general — not transportation — fund, debt service on those bonds totaled $85 million when Walker and the Republicans took over. In 2017-18 the Fiscal Bureau estimates it will total $127 million.
Some members of the “conservative” Senate caucus even boast that the new debt they back hasn’t been this low since the Doyle Administration. Got that? It was Doyle who got the ball rolling on the unprecedented highway debt. Now there are elected Republicans using the Doyle record as a yardstick for their own borrowing.
George Mitchell is a former journalist who has held positions in federal, state, and county government and served as a consultant to various governmental and private sector groups.