Friday, May 16, 2008

Status Quo Rules State Transportation Policies

Gov. Jim Doyle used his veto pen on the budget repair bill and, predictably, Republicans are focusing their fake outrage over a "raid" on transportation funds.

Republican State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R- Juneau), framed it in the prototypical, partisan news release, even though it was former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson who set the modern standard for East Wing veto activity - - 1,900 times, by his own boastful count - - and Republicans at the time couldn't get enough of it.

As legislators and road-builders know full well, the net loss to the state transportation fund will be negligible because borrowing will fill in the gap, and none of those sacred highway contracts that the highway lobby's equally fake "Doomsday Option" PR campaign earlier this month will or was ever going to take place.

Road-building is the only statewide economic planning we have in Wisconsin. It keeps a complex set of industries and labor pools engaged annually and seasonally, and regardless of party, Governors and legislators do nothing to tamper with it.

Road-building will continue this year and this budget cycle as it did the previous year and the cycle before it, and the process will be repeated and financed in the future with the same combination of user fees, gasoline taxes, local property taxes, and state income tax payments to pay off borrowings.

If legislators really wanted to do something beyond sending their aides to crank out election-year posturings, they could examine the true transportation spending shortfall - - the continuing starvation of transit expansion that would make economic sense as gasoline breaks the $4-a-gallon barrier.

But state government in Wisconsin is slow to embrace new ideas and practices that have been in place elsewhere for a long time.

As a "progressive state," Wisconsin is living off its reputation, and the inertia in its transportation policies, along with a lack of reformist spirit and leaders, are the proof.

Whether it's adding rail lines to the I-94 expansion, following through on citizen clamor for transit and transparent planning, or reforming the state's failed drunk-driving law, Wisconsin leads only in lethargy.

Change in Wisconsin is obstructed by powerful and wealthy lobbies - - the tavern, beer and liquor interests, and the various arms of the highway lobby, too - - but overly-cautious politicians who benefit from the status quo share a lot of the blame.

But those, like Fitzgerald, who play the crocodile tear game, are entitled to claim the greater share of deserved hypocrisy.

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