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Gov. Scott Walker defends DOT spending plan

Posted at 12:45 PM, Sep 15, 2016

EDGERTON -- Governor Scott Walker is touring the state Thursday to tout his department of transportation’s proposed, 2017-19 budget. 

Wisconsin is expected to be almost $1 billion short on funding for its current transportation projects during the next couple of years, according to an estimate from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. 

To deal with the shortfall, the Wisconsin DOT budget proposal, officially handed over to the Governor Thursday, calls for delaying a series of major highway construction projects for two years. 

The reconstruction of Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange, expected to be complete by 2020, would not be fully finished until 2022. 

Speaking in Edgerton, Walker said the "core" of the Zoo Interchange project is still on track to be completed during the next budget cycle. 

But he said the North leg of the project, which is not in dire need of repair, will be put off.

"The work around the zoo out to the medical complex, the hospitals, the other healthcare facilities there, all of that area will be competed," Walker said. 

The proposal also calls for no money to be put towards a $1.6 billion plan to rebuild I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line. 

The budget proposal calls for cutting state highway programs by almost $450 million over the next two years. 

It also provides $69.7 million more for maintenance and $65 million more for local governments and their roads. 

"Local governments actually got an increase in 2015," Walker said. "But what this increase does is it means local governments will have more than they had not just in the past budget, but more than what they had before I took office." 

The DOT budget plan includes borrowing $500 million to help cover the expected transportation fund shortfall, although that’s down from the roughly $850 million in borrowed money authorized in the current budget. 

Under the budget blueprint, no new taxes or fees will be used to make up the budget shortfall. The plan does not raise the current gas tax or vehicle registration tax. 

Walker on Thursday said he would veto any proposed increases to feed the transportation fund unless they were offset by savings to taxpayers of the same amount. 

State Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee) said he was happy the proposed budget does not raise taxes. He also said he likes that more money is being diverted to local governments. 

But Riemer said he believes even more savings could be found by scaling back major highway projects in the Southeastern part of the state. 

Specifically, he thinks the price tag of the I-94 East/West corridor project in the Milwaukee area is too pricey. 

"There's still tens of millions of dollars from that particular project, that's ultimately going to cost in excess of $1 billion, that could be scaled back," Riemer said. 

Riemer also said he hopes the GOP-controlled state legislature will not make changes to the budget proposal that will divert money from elsewhere into the transportation fund. 

"Education is a top priority. Making sure people have access to health insurance is a top priority," Riemer said. "I don't want to see dollars from those important programs yanked away."