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Jan 11, 201709:10 PMTransportation Matters

with Debby Jackson

Are our highways too big to fix?

(page 1 of 2)

Too big to fail was a buzz phrase that we all became too familiar with about a decade ago. It is, of course, referring to the financial crisis of the late 2000s when the U.S. government disbursed $700 billion to save large companies under the theory that they were so vital to the U.S. economy that it would be disastrous if they went bankrupt.

In Wisconsin we seem to have a new concept being floated by some: Too big to fix. Under this theory, Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure has fallen into such serious disrepair that it would require a tax increase so massive as to throw a wet blanket on the economy. So the wiser course, according to this theory, is to do nothing. Because taking the third roughest roads in the country and letting them deteriorate further will have no impact on the economy …

While I’m not weighing in on the bailouts of the financial industry, I will say that I believe this second theory is dubious, at best … oh, come on. We call it like it is these days, right? It’s ridiculous.

Some lawmakers who have opposed raising any new revenue to try to begin addressing our yawning transportation hole had the Legislative Fiscal Bureau run a scenario of needs in which we would have to increase the state gas tax 28 cents. That would be a 91% increase over our current 30.9 cent per gallon gas tax. If that made you gulp then it had its intended effect. Of course, this is based on a set of assumptions that were designed to elicit a number that would cause that involuntary reaction in your throat.

It would take far too long to explain the fully loaded assumptions that were cobbled together to generate this number, but it suffices to say they looked to reduce bonding to zero and simultaneously move forward on everything. Most people who are actually searching for answers would agree there is a prudent ratio of bonding to revenue for long-term capital projects like rebuilding our interstates and other thoroughfares. What we can’t do is rely on bonding as a surrogate for funding as we have in the past. This practice has landed us in a place where debt service is eating up nearly a quarter of all state transportation revenue coming in.

They also assume finding zero savings through efficiencies. This is where we get into an either/or discussion that makes some of us wonder if we can walk and chew gum at the same time. The discussion seems to be either we can solve our entire problem by finding efficiencies or conversely the problem is sooo big we have to tax ourselves to oblivion.


Jan 17, 2017 01:46 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

How wonderfully you have avoided evaluating the option I have been proposing in comments here for years:

Place a moratorium on expansions for 10 years (until such time as the policy for self-driving automobile technology is worked out), vacate the least productive stretches of state highway, and use the savings to fund maintenance of the most productive stretches of highway.

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About This Blog

 Debby Jackson assumed the role of executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin after more than 15 years with the organization. In addition to her vast experience in association management and transportation advocacy, Jackson has a background in business. She leverages the breadth and depth of her professional experience, along with her knowledge of the membership and mission of TDA, to be a strong voice for robust transportation infrastructure in Wisconsin. Jackson started her career as a staff auditor with Price Waterhouse, which led to a series of accounting and corporate management positions with a major national retailer.

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