Op Ed

Highways Debt Up 87% Under Walker

Republicans have added nearly $3 billion in debt, want to add $700 million more.

By - Jul 17th, 2017 12:27 pm
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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).

Bonding Debt Service (nominal dollars, millions)

Bonding Debt Service (nominal dollars, millions)

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.

Specifically, when Democrat Jim Doyle became governor, debt service consumed about 7 percent of transportation fund revenue. When Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP took control that number had grown to about 11 percent. With respect to highway debt, their mantra was “Party On.” As a result, in 2017-19 the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that more than 20 cents of every gas tax and vehicle registration dollar will be sucked up by debt service. Consider this: the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance observes that a lesser share of the federal budget is devoted to debt service.

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.

6 thoughts on “Op Ed: Highways Debt Up 87% Under Walker”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    This can’t be true. Fake news! We all know Republicans don’t stand for debt.

  2. Colin Stuart says:

    If only there was a way to pay that debt… OH I KNOW…. index the gas tax to modern levels instead of where it left off in the 90s……….. and raise registration fees and STOP opening all kinds of tax loopholes and breaks for businesses!
    If only if only.
    Walker needs to end this madness, or GTFO.

  3. WashCoRepub says:

    Borrowing to fund intrastructure improvements while the cost of debt is very low by historical standards, is a smart move. I would think that Wisconsin’s bonds would be graded at the highest quality given the excellent shape of our debt/spending ratio (thanks, Act 10!) thus ensuring a lower interest rate.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Right-wing hypocrite alert! Billions in debt with more on the way is fine because Walker.

  5. Walter stawicki says:

    your food on the table could pay for this. Trumpsters told me so.

  6. Eric J says:

    I never agreed to the ” government borrow while interest rate is low ” argument for infrastructure spending. While it is a means of getting through the issue, in the end it is WASTING taxpayer dollars. There is much greater need for transportation funds beyond the current road building plans of the current D.O.T. . This approach makes everyone suffer for the near future while Walker can claim he didn’t raise taxes. With this mentality Foxcomm will never locate here.

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