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Under Gov. Scott Walker, has less state money been going to highway repair and more to debt on money borrowed for road work? (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) Under Gov. Scott Walker, has less state money been going to highway repair and more to debt on money borrowed for road work? (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Under Gov. Scott Walker, has less state money been going to highway repair and more to debt on money borrowed for road work? (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 11, 2018

Debt payments for Wisconsin road work have doubled under Scott Walker, Democrat Kelda Roys says

When it comes to maintaining Wisconsin highways, the more the state spends on debt payments for road work, the less money there is available for actual work.

Kelda Helen Roys, one of 10 Democrats hoping to run against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the November 2018 election, claims Walker is spending too much on debt payments. The former state lawmaker, who won a straw poll among the gubernatorial candidates at the state Democratic Convention, made that attack about a month before the convention.

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Her claim came May 2, 2018 in a Wisconsin Eye television interview during this exchange with host Steven Walters:

Roys: I think we’re seeing the effects of putting things on the credit card when it comes to our roads. Now we’re spending twice as much on debt service for just basic road repair and maintenance --

Walters: -- 22 or 23 percent.  

Roys: Right. And I think when he (Walker) came in, it was something like 10 or 11 percent.

So, using percentages, is the state under Walker "spending twice as much on debt service for just basic road repair and maintenance"?

   

More from PolitiFact on Walker spending:

Roys: In 2011 under Scott Walker, Wisconsin for the first time spent "more on our prison system than we did" on the University of Wisconsin System. Mostly True

Walker: Work with the Legislature to repay the raids from the Transportation Fund. Promise Kept

 

Increased borrowing

On transportation, Walker has been criticized for refusing to raise gas taxes or vehicle fees to bring more revenue into the state’s road fund, opting instead to borrow more money and to delay some road projects.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan state agency, warned in analyzing Walker’s 2017-’19 state budget that "continued reliance on bonds over a sustained period can result in debt service costs that consume an increasing share of transportation revenue."

On the other hand, Walker has made good on two promises -- to stop "raids" on the state transportation fund, and to pay back money that had been transferred from that fund to the state’s general fund under his predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle.

The numbers

To assess Roys’ statement, we examined the latest available figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which were produced in November 2017.

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In analyzing 2017-’19 two-year state budget enacted by Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature, the bureau provided figures on the total of all transportation debt service as a percentage of gross transportation fund revenue -- in other words, what portion of transportation revenue for road work would be going to paying off debt.

To look at what’s happened during Walker’s tenure, we use as a base the 2010-’11 state fiscal year -- the second year of the final state budget under under his Doyle:

State budget year

Amount of transportation debt payments

Debt payments as a percentage of  transportation revenue

2010-’11: Final budget year under Doyle

$197.2 million

11.5%

*2017-’18: Current budget year

$380.2 million

20%

*2018-’19: Starts July 1, 2018

$398.4 million

20.9%

 

Doubling would be 23 percent, so 20.9 percent is pretty close.

But it’s worth noting that the figures for 2017-18 and 2018-’19 are estimates, though they are based on the 2017-’19 state budget and are not expected to change much.

Our rating

Roys says that under Walker, on a percentage basis, Wisconsin is "spending twice as much on debt service for just basic road repair and maintenance" than before he took office.

The portion of road revenue being used for debt service was 11.5 percent during the final budget year for Doyle, Walker’s predecessor.

The figure is projected to reach 20.9 percent during the second year of the current two-year state budget Walker signed, which is nearly doubling.

With the caveat that the figure for the current budget is an estimate, we rate Roys’ statement Mostly True.

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Mostly True
Says that under Scott Walker, on a percentage basis, Wisconsin is "spending twice as much on debt service for just basic road repair and maintenance" than before he took office.
In an interview
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Our Sources

Wisconsin Eye, Kelda Roys interview (1:55), May 2, 2018

Email, Kelda Roys campaign spokesman Brian Evans, June 5, 2018

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, analysis of Act 59, November, 2017

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Transportation Finance," January 2017

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 2017-’19 state budget on transportation

Interview, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau program supervisor Al Runde, June 5, 2018

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Annual Growth in Gross Transportation Fund Revenue and Transportation Fund-supported Debt Service," May 2018

Capital Times, "The transportation debate: Critics say Scott Walker’s record on road funding will be an issue this fall," April 4, 2018

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More by Tom Kertscher

Debt payments for Wisconsin road work have doubled under Scott Walker, Democrat Kelda Roys says

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