Monday, August 18, 2014
Political Operatives Blame Feds For Not Funding State's I39/90 Expansion
From the "you can't make this stuff up" category comes Sunday's Janesville Gazette headline story about the I39/90 interstate expansion, "Is funding a roadblock?"
The story, conveniently published almost two months after Democratic candidate for the 15th District State Senate, Austin Scieszinski, claimed the decision to approve the interstate expansion was done behind closed doors and resulted in a deal that washed up to $500 million away from local road repair and maintenance, confirms almost everything he said. That's the good part.
The article did contain some truth and some facts, but not enough of them. The problem is the newspaper added up what they had, including a few sketchy comments from Sen. Tim Cullen, and then purposely painted the wrong conclusion for hardcopy readers by pointing fingers at the feds. The hardcopy contained the title, "Interstate/Fingers point at feds" on the page it was continued on.
Yes, it was a state decision to expand the federal interstate and yes, state legislators making the decision knew it would result in a major shift of INNER state funding that could wash up to $500 million away from city and rural roads. It was that statement by Scieszinski during a candidate's forum, that raised the back hairs of his opponents. They attempted to marginalize the importance of the funding ratio, calling the ratio "immaterial." But to this day, no one has disputed his numbers or how they got there.
The only difference now is understanding that the flipping of the funding ratio was the result, not the cause, of the funding shift. The funding ratio number is merely part of the transaction report. Still, the ratio provides an important aspect that helps put funding requirements and expectations into a clearer perspective. If it was 80/20 before and changed to 30/70, working backwards could find the culprit. But nobody wants to go there.
The other thing is; every new highway project the state may want DOES NOT have to change the federal/state funding ratio of other highway projects - assuming the federal amount is static. Unfortunately, it's the state that appears unable to keep its end of the bargain and it is those little "nuances" that are worked out, usually behind closed doors between state legislators, bureaucrats and lobbyists, that determines which funding will be used for any given project, where it comes from, where it's going, and who will be the winners and the losers.
You'll recall it was the I39/90 expansion's biggest lobby group, Forward Janesville, who criticized Mayor Tom Barrett for defending local road funding and as I suspected from the beginning, city and rural taxpayers across Wisconsin will be facing a wave of local wheel taxes and road tax hike referendums to restore the lost funding. It's not the federal government to blame. Obviously, we were the losers.
As fundamental as this might sound, it still must be repeated. The state's blame game over funding this project is not over building or funding a new federal interstate highway, where there is none. Their funding blame game IS over expanding an existing interstate. The I39/90 expansion is NOT a federally mandated project. It is a Forward Janesville/State mandated project. Please keep that in mind. It's pure politics.
So, the state has to put the spin cycle in reverse in order to shift the focus away from local lobby groups to place blame on everyone's favorite boogey man - the federal government.
It's true the federal transportation fund is facing a shortfall of $58 billion, but that has nothing to do with the decision to expand the I39/90 interstate. I guarantee you Congress will find ways to keep the national highway fund replenished with new money. It's also likely Republicans will take the federal transportation fund hostage for a new ransom demand from Obama, but in no way will Rep. Paul Ryan allow the federal trough to run dry for a top local support syndicate like the Forward Janesville Rock Roads transportation lobby.
Again, nobody has come forward to prove Scieszinski's major sticking points wrong. Nobody wants to explain exactly what effect did approving the I39/90 expansion have on funding local roads. As it turns out, he caught nothing but ridicule from opponents and the state road lobby. It's also important to note that Scieszinski supports the interstate expansion.
RNR - Wisconsin Rural/City Roads Are Crumbling For The I39/90 Expansion
Posted by Lou Kaye at 12:28 AM