Protect the Transportation Fund from raids.
Protect the Transportation Fund from raids
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Protect the Transportation Fund from raids
With the final state budget of Gov. Scott Walker's second term complete (and his campaign for a third term officially under way), we're reviewing this promise.
The Transportation Fund is the largest source of funding for transportation programs (exceeding bond proceeds and federal funds). In the 2015-'16 state budget year, the fund had revenues of $1.93 billion, nearly 90 percent of which came from gas and vehicle registration fees.
The nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau told us that in the state budget periods from 2003 through 2011, a net of $375.6 million was transferred from the Transportation Fund to the state's general fund. A report from the bureau said the transfers were made as part of an effort to balance the general fund, the state's main budget account.
Jim Doyle, a Democrat, was governor during that period. Walker has served since after his election in 2010. But it's worth noting that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers helped Doyle make the transfers to pay for schools and other programs.
Under Walker, for the state budget periods from 2011 through 2019, transfers have been made from the general fund back to the transportation fund totaling $1.28 billion -- more than repaying the $375.6 million and leaving the transportation fund with a total of $901.9 million more.
No transfers from the general fund to the Transportation Fund have been done.
(In November 2014, on the same day Walker defeated Democrat Mary Burke to win re-election, state voters approved a referendum establishing a constitutional amendment that prevents governors and state lawmakers from using the transportation fund for other uses. Walker backed the measure.)
For Walker's pledge to protect the transportation fund from raids, our rating is Promise Kept.
The Transportation Fund is known as a segregated fund: All transportation revenues, primarily the state gas tax and federal transportation dollars, go into that account to fund transportation costs of various types, including highways and mass transit.
Walker's promise goes to protecting the fund from being "raided" and used for purposes other than transportation.
In November 2014, on the same day Walker defeated Democrat Mary Burke to win re-election, state voters approved a referendum establishing a constitutional amendment that prevents governors and state lawmakers from using the transportation fund for other uses. Walker backed the measure.
That strengthened protections for the fund, given that the protections previously were only under state statute and could be more readily changed.
The push for the amendment was a response to state elected officials tapping $1.3 billion from the transportation fund to pay for schools and other programs over several years. Those moves were made by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and supported by lawmakers from both parties.
That stopped in 2011, after Walker was first elected governor, and no such transfers have occurred since.
Walker's first two state budgets repaid nearly $374 million to the Transportation Fund. But that doesn't mean there is enough money coming into the fund to meet the state's transportation needs.
In November 2015, lawmakers approved Walker's plan to borrow $350 million for road projects. The additional borrowing was criticized as not being a long-term funding solution, such as increasing the state gas tax.
The additional borrowing, said the nonprofit Wisconsin Budget Project, "will drive debt repayment costs higher, take money from a pot intended to support education and health care, and once again put off a permanent solution to paying for Wisconsin's highways."
Nevertheless, given there haven't been transfers to this point in Walker's second term, we rate this promise In the Works.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Constitutional amendment on transportation fund goes to voters Nov. 4," Oct. 9, 2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Voters approve state transportation fund amendment," Nov. 4, 2014
Email, Gov. Scott Walker deputy communications director Tom Evenson, May 24, 2016