Senator says long-term solution needed
By Robert Cloud
The Joint Finance Committee voted Wednesday, Nov. 4, to approve $350 million in general obligation bonds for Wisconsin highway construction improvements.
Six Assembly Republicans and all four Democrats on Joint Finance voted in favor of the bonding, while all six Senate Republicans voted against it.
In his initial budget request, Gov. Scott Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion for Wisconsin’s highway projects.
State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, released the following statement regarding his vote against the bonds.
“I voted against the approval of $350 million for highway bonds by the Joint Finance Committee because the use of general obligation bonds means that the debt service will be paid out of the general fund. The general fund is the same pot of money used for Elementary and Secondary School Aids, the UW System, our correctional system and more.
“We should invest in a strong and well-maintained transportation system because it is critical to the economic well-being of our state. However, we need to find a sustainable, long-term solution to fund projects that are important components of Wisconsin’s infrastructure.
“I have always expressed the need for responsible bonding because by borrowing money you saddle future generations with debt. We made difficult decisions during the 2015-17 state budget to cut UW System funding and only increase public school funding in the second year of the biennium, so I could not vote for $350 million in general obligation bonds.
“I remain dedicated to finding solutions on how we can fund Wisconsin’s transportation system in a responsible and sustainable manner, and I look forward to continuing to work to accomplish this goal,” Olsen said.
Wisconsin’s gasoline tax was indexed to inflation from 1984 to 2006, when indexing was rescinded and borrowing began replacing revenues to cover the cost of the state’s transportation system.
According to a report by National Public Radio, Wisconsin will spend “a record high 21 cents of every transportation dollar on debt service” next year.
“Wisconsin is rated third worst in the nation for highway infrastructure with 71 percent of roads in poor or mediocre condition,” according to state Sen. Jon Erpenbach.
“There is a shortage of funds in the transportation budget. This segregated fund budget is supposed to be self-sufficient. However, the last three budgets the transportation budget has pulled from the general fund just to try to support some of the scheduled maintenance and projects,” Erpenbach added.