On Wednesday Governor Scott Walker started the 2017-2019 state budget process by introducing his proposed budget. This is the first mile of a century ride.
The budget pretty much mirrors what his Department of Transportation proposed back in the fall. The good news is that there is substantial new funding to repair the kinds of local roads where cyclists do most of their riding. General Transportation Aids would go up almost seven percent while the Local Roads Improvement Program would get a 25% increase over the previous two-year budget. Between both programs there would be $77 million more funding for local road repair over the next two years.
But the budget got a cool reception from a man who will have a lot to say about how all this comes out in the end. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos criticized the Governor’s plan for not addressing long-term transportation funding problems. The transportation fund has relied on increased borrowing and project delays in recent budgets. A bipartisan commission has recommended significant tax increases to reduce borrowing and keep projects on track, but the Governor said specifically in his address to the legislature that he was against gas tax increases, the biggest potential funding mechanism.
Vos had said previously that his caucus might propose about $300 million in transportation tax increases offset by the same amount in tax cuts in other areas, like the state income tax. But, thanks to some recent good financial news, Walker was able to double that by proposing $600 million in various tax cuts.
This could provide an opening for Vos and some like-minded Republicans and Democrats to increase transportation taxes beyond the $300 million he was proposing. But it still comes down to whether or not the Governor would accept such an increase since any Wisconsin Governor has strong veto powers and it would be hard to muster a two-thirds vote to override him.
All of which is to say that there are lots of miles ahead on this trip. The budget has now been referred to the legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee. They will take it around the state for public hearings, get briefings from state agencies and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, and start voting on it piece by piece probably in April or early May. Then it goes to each house of the legislature only to arrive, in amended form, back on the Governor’s desk some time around July 1st. He can veto all or any part of it.
The Bike Fed’s primary goal will be to maintain at least the increases for local road aids that the Governor has proposed. We also have an interest in the long-term integrity of the transportation fund and, so, we want to be positive, responsible players in finding a good public policy solution that puts the fund on better footing for the future.