The Contrarian

Roads Spending Way Down, Debt Way Up

New state report shows roads funding down 28%, yet debt service doubling under Walker.

By - Aug 28th, 2018 01:39 pm
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Road Closed. Photo by Dave Reid.

Road Closed. Photo by Dave Reid.

In March I wrote about the Transportation Department’s decision to not issue a longstanding financial report on revenue, spending and debt. At that time WisDOT Deputy Secretary Bob Seitz told me the report was not a “document we keep up…”

The agency has reconsidered. It recently released “Transportation Budget Trends — 2018-2019.” This valuable report has been issued for decades, on a biennial basis, under Democrat and Republican administrations. A key feature is the inclusion of data adjusted to reflect inflation. That provides so-called “real” numbers, allowing for accurate year-to-year comparisons.

Highlights from the report (79 pages plus appendices) include the following:

State Highway Construction — Spending in the 2017-19 biennium of about $2.5 billion compares with $3.5 billion in the last biennium of the administration of Democrat Jim Doyle. (As recently as yesterday, Governor Scott Walker reiterated an inaccurate claim that highway spending during his administration has exceeded that under Doyle by $3 billion. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau described problems with this claim, as reported by the Journal Sentinel’s Politifact.

Debt Service — Highway debt has mushroomed even as spending on road construction has dropped. Debt service of $303 million in the last year of the Doyle administration compares with $496 million in the current fiscal year. As a per cent of transportation fund revenue debt service has nearly doubled, from 11.3 percent to 20.1 percent.

Local Assistance — Spending of $1.4 billion in the 2009-11 biennium (the last under Doyle) compares with $1.3 billion the current biennium.

Revenue/Vehicle Mile Traveled — Transportation fund revenue per mile is down 14 percent since 2011. This underscores the fundamental problem facing the transportation fund. While motorists and truckers are traveling more, and wearing out the roads, they are contributing less per mile traveled.

Wisconsin vs. Neighboring States — Motorists in the neighboring states of Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota pay an average of 58 percent more in fuel taxes and registration fees than a Wisconsin motorist.

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