Wisconsin Gov. Walker Proposes More Road Funding for Cities

Published November 15, 2016

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is proposing to increase state funding for local road construction projects in 2017.

In October, Walker announced plans to increase state government aid for local governments’ transportation projects by about $23.5 million a year in his proposed 2017 two-year budget.

Between 2015 and 2016, the state distributed about $321 million in taxpayer funds to city governments for road construction and repair. Walker’s proposal would increase funding aid by about 7.3 percent.

New Spending Priorities

Chris Rochester, director of communications for the MacIver Institute for Public Policy, says Walker is able to do so by reprioritizing spending priorities.

“Walker has said the Wisconsinites he’s spoken with want less debt and more support for local projects,” Rochester said. “It should be noted that his proposal to increase funding for local projects is not a spending increase. Instead it’s a change in priorities. So-called ‘mega-projects,’ like those in southeast Wisconsin, will be delayed so local projects throughout the state, many long overdue, can move forward.”

Rochester says the cost reductions on “mega-projects” won’t stop necessary infrastructure improvements.

“Lawmakers must be good stewards of taxpayers’ transportation dollars,” Rochester said. “A big example in Wisconsin is when several hundred million dollars were trimmed off the cost of one ‘mega-project’ just by cutting back on unnecessary elements like decorations on overpasses.”

Who Pays?

Baruch Feigenbaum, assistant director of transportation policy for the Reason Foundation, says there are different ways lawmakers can fund and finance government road construction.

“Financing, the means of procuring funding, and actual funding are two different things,” Feigenbaum said. “Some basic level of funding is needed. In general, I prefer users-pay/users-benefit revenue sources such as tolling, mileage-based user fees, and gas taxes. That being said, I think Wisconsin should ensure it is maximizing its current revenue before it considers raising taxes.”

Suggests Private Sector Partnering

Feigenbaum says state governments should work with the private sector to maximize savings and quality of service on public projects.

“The private sector can help build projects through public-private partnerships by providing financing, taking on risk, etc.,” Feigenbaum said. “Almost every state in the country, including Wisconsin, could work with the private sector both to build new roads and perform fence-to-fence maintenance such as mowing grass and picking up litter.”