Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In State Budget, Quiet Gift To Road-Builders Slipped In Friday Before Holiday Weekend

You'd think that more billions for the road-builders in the Walker budget would keep that politically-savvy lobby happy.


I'm told that last Friday, as the Joint Committee on Finance wound down towards the three-day Memorial Day weekend, it voted to add to Scott Walker's proposed budget a fresh giveaway to the road-builders: a requirement that all 72 Wisconsin Counties hire private contractors for any job over $100,000.

And the measure bars counties and other municipalities from performing such work for another unit of government - - so a village can't contract with a County to get an intersection rebuilt, for example, if the cost exceeds $100,000.

All this work is to be privatized - - even though the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has said and documented that private contracting for road-building costs the public more money.

These items are in the Omnibus Transportation Motion, sections 18-20, which was sprung as motion #352 before Joint Finance Friday around noon, and was sponsored by the co-chairs, Republicans Robin Vos and Alberta Darling.

[Update - - Republican State Senate President Mike Ellis angrily and it great detail Wednesday afternoon threw Darling and Vos under the bus, calling the measure "stupid" while pledging to kill it.]

Set aside reacting to this solely as a fresh blow to local control and decision-making - - a concept tossed overboard when Walker and his legislative allies rushed through their elimination of collective bargaining for virtually public employees.

And it's more than a further transfer of public dollars to private interests who supported Walker and his fellow Republicans, though these examples are piling up.

This one has a public safety consequence:

Counties repave roads in the summer and plow them in the winter. Many county workers perform both duties.

If you strip the road-building money from their budgets, the Counties, now under state-mandated revenue limitations, cannot retain their plow operators when it snows.

So you say, "Oh, I get it. Another way to get rid of public employees - - making it a conservatives' two-fer, with more public money going to private-sector firms."

Not so fast:

Modern snow plows are not just dump tricks with big blades: They are sophisticated vehicles, requiring mastery, in bad weather, of road surface temperature sensors that govern when and where and what sort of mix to put down, as well proficiency with specialized vision technology that allows drivers to operate in blinding snow.

Bottom line:

If the Joint Finance committee and the full legislature retain this new, self-dealing pork buffet for the road-builders and asphalt-suppliers (hello, Koch Industries), you might not want to meet a snow plow coming the other way this winter.

Or get out on the highways, which, as we are told over and over again, are the links that keep jobs filled and the economy flowing.


SMH said...

The DOT in its own studies show that it costs taxpayers MORE to hire private contractors than to do the work with state workers. Look it up.
This is outrageous.

Anonymous said...

If you cut the number of trained county highway workers, who will respond to tornados, hazardous material spills and floods?

James Rowen said...

To SMH: I am adding that. I forgot about it. Thank you: