Problems left for the next budget writers

Kathleen Vinehout

By Senator Kathleen Vinehout

“Policy is who pays, who doesn’t pay and where the money gets spent,” said the President of the NAACP in a recent speech.

Policy making was center stage at the State Capitol when the long delayed $76 billion two-year state budget was rushed to passage just days after a majority of lawmakers voted to give a Taiwan billionaire $3 billion in state subsidies.

Budgets are about choices. Budget writers this year chose to leave major problems for the next budget writers.

Education is the most important job state government does. For years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed the state’s school funding formula was broken.

This budget, there were enough funds to change the formula. Efforts to do so were voted down. Instead, more state dollars were spent on vouchers for unaccountable private schools.

Got Budget? No - and this is not a good thing

So, we're now a couple weeks and counting past when the state budget in Wiscosnin is due. At least we've managed to avoid a complete state shutdown, unlike a number of other states in the past month. But cruising along on past allotments isn't an answer. Once again we are seeing that although the current state administration is capable of winning votes, and keeping total control over the government, one thing they are genuinely terrible at is governing. 

Dana Wachs/Kathleen Vinehout Budget Town Hall

This is the town hall meeting that Kathleen Vinehout and Dana Wacs held on May 20, 2017 in Eau Claire, WI. They covered a large range of different topics, mostly concentrating on healthcare and the transportation budget. A lively discussion follows.  There were some equipment issues in the midst of recording this so it is recorded on two different cameras. I've attempted to even up the video quality and sound levels a little bit - but didn't completely succeed. Hoping to be able to afford a little bit of equipment upgrade as part of the Wis.Community project.

Wachs/Vinehout Budget Town Hall

Four (Not so Easy) Ways to Balance the Transportation Budget

Kathleen Vinehout
Four (Not so Easy) Ways to Balance the Transportation Budget
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“If it was up to you,” the Chamber of Commerce moderator asked area legislators, “How would you solve the transportation problem?”
Budget talks are stalled. Legislators can’t seem to find a way through the labyrinth of interests stalking the Capitol halls. One main sticking point is how to balance the transportation budget.
Governor Walker left lawmakers with $1.3 billion in new debt to pay for roads over the next two years. Among many decisions the governor made was to increase spending in the Major Highway Development Program by $100 million or over 13%. He borrowed $109 million to pay for this spending.
One decision the governor did not make was to take any of the two-dozen suggestions of his Secretary of Transportation to make possible changes in revenue – new taxes or fees.
Of course, borrowing $1.3 billion to pay for spending means someone in the future would have to increase taxes and fees. This is true because, by the end of the budget nearly a quarter of the spending on transportation is on debt service –an unsustainable amount.

Transportation Spending: It’s time for a comprehensive audit

Kathleen Vinehout
Transportation Spending: It’s time for a comprehensive audit
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“Senate leader on budget deal: ‘I don’t know where we are at’” was the headline of a recent Associated Press story on the budget deal. The story went on to report there’s “no agreement yet on how to pay for transportation projects…”
While the Senate leader gathered up votes, I gathered up a few studies to understand if all this borrowing was necessary.
Here’s what I found:
Transportation spending is about $6 billion - 8.5% of our total state budget. About 40% of that comes from the federal government.
Last April, the budget committee received good news that low fuel costs meant residents were driving more and gas tax money is up – by about $13 million over 3 years.

A Constitutional Amendment Will Not Solve Transportation Problems

October 22, 2014
A Constitutional Amendment Will Not Solve Transportation Problems
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
“Tell us about the Transportation Constitutional Amendment,” the Eau Claire man asked.
On November 4th people have the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution. The question, paraphrased, is: should money collected in gas tax and motor vehicle registration fees be kept in the Transportation Fund and used only for transportation purposes?
Proponents argue ‘Yes’. Money set aside for roads should be kept in the Transportation Fund. But nothing in state government is simple. And even if the amendment passes, problems funding roads are not solved.
People drive less and drive more efficient vehicles. Gas tax and motor vehicle registration funds aren’t keeping up with state spending on roads. Increasing debt payments for past spending takes a bigger bite every year.
At the same Eau Claire neighborhood conversation I was asked “Why are we voting on something that won’t solve the problem?”
Good question!

US transportation policy: Pedaling as fast as we can just to stay in place

More millenials rely on bikes

If there is one public policy  issue on which Scott Walker and Republicans in general are totally out of touch with reality, it's mass transit. They actively oppose a balanced state and national transportation policy that makes sense for the 21st Century. And in Wisconsin's case, that opposition is going to cause environmental and economic harm, across the state and especially our cities.

That is becoming increasingly clear as policy experts examine how public attitudes are changing towards transportation and the way communities are designed. From the Reuters news service:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Where streetcar foes bend the logic around

[img_assist|nid=99658|title= Extinct Milwaukee streetcar|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=310|height=208]The biggest irony in the continuing, arms-length battle over a new electric streetcar system in Milwaukee is the veiled antagonism of the very company that once ran the city's previous electric streetcar line.

WE Energies, the state's largest power utility, has been objecting to a planned route for the new streetcars through Milwaukee's downtown on the basis that it would cost tens of millions of dollars to relocate power lines along the planned route. Then there's a reported ten million dollars that AT&T says it would need to relocate its communications lines in the city so the streetcar rails and support systems could be installed.

On Hole Cards, Or, "Drill, Baby, Drill"? Why? Is Canada Out Of Sand?

In America, today, there are three kinds of drivers: those who look at the other gas pumps down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much that guy’s spending on gas”, those who look at their own pump down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I’m spending on gas” – and those who are doing both at the same time.

Naturally, this has brought the Sarah Palins of the world back out in public, and once again the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” can be heard all the way from the Florida coast to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But what if those folks have it exactly backwards?

What if, in a world of depleting oil resources, the last thing you want to do is use yours up? To put it another way: why isn’t all our oil part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

A WELL-BALANCED THOUGHT (from an imbalanced administration)

Mark Gottlieb, Gov. Scott Walker's choice for secretary of the state Department of Transporation, had a message for DOT staff this week. In an otherwise reasonable and thoughtful email, he wrote (emphasis ours):

"I am honored to serve in this position and grateful that Governor Walker has given me this opportunity. A well-balanced and efficient transportation system is an important component of the Governor’s plan to create jobs and grow our economy. I’m excited about working together with you to achieve those goals."


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