Why Wouldn’t Walker Raise Funds for Transportation?

Author: Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology & Digital Culture Editor | Date: May 18, 2017

Last weekend, Governor Scott Walker told the Wisconsin state GOP convention “I’m ready to help lead Wisconsin forward for another four years.” He touted Wisconsin’s employment rate: “with records levels of employment in the state of Wisconsin, the better question is, ‘why wouldn’t I run for re-election?’”

Yes, why wouldn’t he? If only the employment numbers told the whole story.

Democrats were quick to blast Walker after his unofficial announcement – par for the course – but they had a pretty potent argument to deploy against him: he’s “fail[ed] to find a long-term solution to fix our state’s fourth-worst in the nation transportation infrastructure, [so] Gov. Walker won’t be able to convince Wisconsinites to re-elect him for another term.”

Full disclosure: I’m a registered Democrat. But I put the success of the state and the nation ahead of party politics as much as possible. In other words, I want Scott Walker to be a good governor. And he certainly deserves some credit for Wisconsin’s employment surge.

But he’s also had some less-than-stellar moments. And there’s one going on right now: the state DOT has a $1 billion budget shortfall. And it’s a problem that has been getting worse since it was first highlighted by a bipartisan commission in 2013. Every time the state government has had to draw up a budget since that warning, they’ve simply borrowed more and more money to make up for the shortfall.

Walker told conventioneers he’d wait until after the budget is passed to officially announce. That’s no accident: he’s been battling with his own party over what to do about this transportation funding emergency.

The gist of the battle between the Republican majority in the state assembly and Walker: on May 5, Rep. Dale Kooyenuga (R-Brookfield) released a budget proposal that would address a good portion of the DOT’s shortfall. His proposal, which was backed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) would have cut the state’s gas tax by 5 cents per gallon and apply the state’s 5 percent sales tax to fuel. And Walker wasn’t having it.

His reason, he said, was that the could not abide a tax increase. Never mind that the tax wasn’t technically going to increase. Or that estimates on the added burden to the average Wisconsin citizen would be in the range of $0/year (according to Republican assembly officials) or around $40 a year (Walker’s DOR chief). Walker instead suggested that general fund tax revenue be used to fund transportation and infrastructure (rather than the DOT fund, which has been running on borrowed funds for so long, more can’t be borrowed).

The general tax fund is the bank account the state uses to pay for essential services like education, protecting the environment, and running various state agencies, among many other things. In other words, there’s a reason transportation money is usually kept separate – transportation infrastructure is critical, but so are these other priorities. These agencies shouldn’t have to compete for funds. And if infrastructure projects are going to be funded in this way, some other state program is going to suffer. In other words, this is not a good counter-proposal.

Text messages between Vos and Walker reveal a feisty exchange over the issue, with Vos asking, “the line of attack … that it’s a choice between funding our schools and having roads we can drive on isn’t really helpful, is it?”

You’re right, Speaker Vos, it isn’t. It isn’t politically helpful to your party or your governor, but it’s also not helpful to Wisconsin residents. We shouldn’t be in a position where we have to choose between essential services, simply because the Governor doesn’t want to have a record that would allow any potential critic down the road to accuse him of raising taxes.

Conservative outlet The Blaze covered Walker’s reelection “pre-announcement”, noting that “Many outlets project Walker will run for President again. If he does, his third term as governor would end … just one year before the 2024 Presidential election.”

That’s basically the only thing that could explain why Walker was unwilling to do something that wouldn’t add any significant burden to citizens’ annual tax bill just because it would allow others to say “this man raised taxes.”

His behavior during this budget crisis is showing it in other ways. While Republicans were trying to find a compromise in the form of splitting transportation budgeting out from the standard budget bill, so it could be dealt with more carefully, Walker took to Twitter to fire off some shots at ABC, who he believes canceled Tim Allen’s most recent sitcom because it had a conservative bent.

In other words, Walker was too busy grandstanding on the national level to adding anything productive to Republican attempts to address the fact that Wisconsin’s road infrastructure is ranked 46th in the nation while avoiding cuts to crucial services like education.

If Walker wants a third term, he should focus on doing what’s right for Wisconsin rather than what might help his post-governorship career. This Democrat hopes he’ll get the message and be remembered as the governor that solved the infrastructure crisis. We’re ready, Governor.

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

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