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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Wisconsin Rural/City Roads Are Crumbling For The I39/90 Expansion

JG Editor's Blog Excerpt: (April, 2012)
"I have yet another reason to stay up to date on the gubernatorial recall situation. Should Tom Barrett win the primary and defeat Gov. Walker, the DOT’s Majors Fund — the state funding source for the 39/90 project—could be in serious jeopardy, as Barrett has publicly stated his desire to rededicate a chunk of this fund to local street maintenance." - Dan Cunningham, Forward Janesville VP

Here's a piece of unsettling news that was never reported on before, or at least addressed in the same light that Austin Scieszinski, a candidate running in the democratic primary for Tim Cullen's senate seat, described during a recent Q & A candidates forum.

In short order and with some obvious reservation, Scieszinski was responding to a question about road and infrastructure funding and mentioned the I39/90 interstate expansion, when he stated that Gov. Jim Doyle called for a closed door meeting of a special DOT committee that hadn't convened for 8 years.

Scieszinski explained that for some reason, Doyle called the meeting at the last minute right before an election (2010). That meeting resulted in flipping the Federal/State funding shares for the interstate project from federal 80% / state 20% to federal 30% / state 70%. That flip in funding, according to Scieszinski, meant that about $500 million in state aid maintenance funding was washed away from local roads. He did not elaborate any further.

So lets back up on this a moment.

Assuming the timeframe on the DOT meeting is somewhere between September and Election Day 2010, several points of interest come readily to mind. Number one; Doyle was not running for re-election in 2010 so there was no direct political benefit or quid pro quo on his part to call the meeting. He had to be pressured by state legislators or lobbyists or both to convene this late meeting.

#2: The biggest booster for the expansion was and still is the pro-Walker anti-competition business group Forward Janesville. The group formed a special lobby at that time to get the interstate expansion on the state's transportation docket. In fall of 2010, the Transportation Projects Commission (the committee Scieszinki spoke of) recommended approval of the project.

#3: Mayor Tom Barrett, who was running against Scott Walker in a close race for governor, made it known that he's a local infrastructure guy who will defend local taxpayers by doing all he can to not cut state aid for local roads and infrastructure. Obviously, Barrett's support for local taxpayers doesn't help Forward Janesville members and their project. Particularly at a time of projected state deficits.

#4: This is where it gets interesting. With poll projections often showing Barrett in the lead, Forward Janesville may have grown desperate to get the interstate expansion on the state's docket. This is speculation but it does appear the special meeting was called just in case Barrett wins election, FJ's project would at least be on the state's agenda ready for enumeration.

The question then becomes what was traded away in a deal that caused the funding to flip AND who are the legislators that traded $500 million in federal highway funding at the command of a special interest group?

If the above scenario is true, it doesn't mean something illegal was done. It just does not bode well for our local legislators. In fact, it's extremely disappointing.

Sure, there are other road funding problems including shortfalls in the gasoline tax coming into play. Also, current cuts in local road aid might not yet reflect the full $500M shift in funding for the I39/90 expansion. But in the meantime, Wisconsin's city and country roads are crumbling from the pressure of cuts resulting in part from a deal to pay for the I39/90 expansion.

Since the election of Scott Walker, Janesville alone enacted its first municipal wheel tax and will have a tax hike road referendum on the ballot this year.

Janesville taxpayers should think long and hard before committing themselves to additional new taxes. Keep in mind that regardless of who is governor next year, the state is considering a slew of new license and registration fee hikes, including raising the state gas tax and even mileage charges. These higher taxes and charges will be on top of our Forward Janesville induced road tax referendum - if you so choose.

Not ironically, Wisconsin republicans also passed laws disabling drivers from suing state or local jurisdictions for damages done to their vehicle or person by unsafe roads.

This appears to be all part of a reformation of expected decline. In no way would I call it forward.

Watch Scieszinski speak about the funding beginning at 9:36 in the video below. (Part 3):

Part 2: Candidates for Wisconsin Senate 2014

Part 1: Candidates For Wisconsin Senate 2014

Thanks To VCKSTR89 for posting these videos.

NOTE: This posting is not an endorsement for any candidate in the state senate primary. Excluding the videos, I also want to make it clear that candidate Austin Scieszinski did not in any way participate in this commentary. It is the sole opinion of its author.


RNR - Janesville, Is the I39/90 Expansion Worth an $80 Annual Vehicle Tax?

RNR - If We Can't Afford The Roads We Have Now - Go Bigger and More Expensive

RNR - Walker Commits To Deficit Spend Interstate Expansion


Anonymous said...

I'm curious. What is the "get" from going from 80 federal state 20 to federal 30 state 70? Cui bobo? Another Coconut Road special?

Lou Kaye said...

That's the problem. I have no idea what was gained by flipping the funding ratios to that end. At least not for state taxpayers. It doesn't make sense yet no one has challenged Scieszinski's numbers.

Unknown said...

Lou, the Transportation Projects Commission IS the meeting that Austin was talking about, and I don't think it was characterized very fairly. The state was still in a cooperative and bipartisan mode then, before Walker's election, and it was a classic lame duck move to usher this through after it didn't matter politically.

As for the funding formula, I think it comes down to the criteria under the then-current (though expired) SAFETEA-LU act from 2005, or its successor MAP-21 passed in 2012. I do know where to start looking into this but I don't have the time to research it satisfactorily.

Unknown said...

Here, for example, is Jim Leute's Gazette article a full month before the TPC meeting:

Lou Kaye said...

I did not research much of what Scieszinski described, but he did lay out a "closed door" event that he claimed led to the massive shift in tax dollars. What surprised me most is that Ringhand nor Sheridan disputed his story except for Sheridan to become personally offended. That lack of dispute on numbers and narrative gave Scieszinski credibility.

To be honest, we thought we were in a bipartisan mode in 2007, 08, 09, etc in Wisconsin when we were not. I recall constant heavy criticism directed at Wisdems, Robson, Doyle, etc. including on all of the nickle and dime tax hikes they were passing. Forward Janesville issued sharp rebuttals against Barrett and publicized their lobby effort to get the project on the docket.

If we had a real newspaper, they would have their own mini politifact story on Scieszinski's claims about the meeting and numbers.

If Scieszinski misspoke, he should step forward and clarify the story.

Lou Kaye said...

One last note here. Thank you Dan for your comments.

Three points of this sideshow still stand out.
#1. Doyle was a lameduck and bills that normally would not see the light of day suddenly get serious consideration. That situation works in Scieszinski's story’s favor.
#2 FJ obviously supported Walker and Walker supported the I39/90 expansion - even with deficits. If they had confidence in him winning, there would have been no need for a lame-duck ramming session. They were afraid Barrett would win and the expansion would again be placed on the back burners.
#3 It is possible that the funding was 20% federal. 80% state for the expansion all along even without the closed door meeting. That needs to be clarified.
#4 If FJ wasn't part of the pressure to get this rammed through before election, they need to dismantle their lobby organization OR at the least, stop taking credit for getting it done.

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