Thursday, December 11, 2014

Road-builders, donor influence win in latest Walker power grab bag

[Multiple updates, with comments inserted] Despite an underfunded Wisconsin highway building binge set to trigger new state debt, taxes and fees, Gov. Walker is proposing to give special interests even greater influence over already-politicized major highway construction planning and spending through a proposed state agency reorganization plan.
US 51 southbound ramps and County K roundabout.
With less public input, you get more of this

Walker wants to eliminate the 15-member Transportation Planning Commission, or TPC, which for 31 years has taken a measure of insider-influence and back-room deal-making out of highway spending by forcing the TPC to have a public discussion of the wisdom and affordability of state taxpayer-funded major highway building proposals.

"Major" highway projects are those costing at least $50 million.

Such projects are among the most costly and controversial actions of state government. Think no further than the battles over adding I-94 in and around Milwaukee.

Bruce Speight, the WISPIRG director who's busy organizing against what the group calls a potential "billion-dollar boondoggle" - - adding I-94 lanes and even elevating them on Milwaukee's west side, sent along this observation today:
“The Governor is right that we need to reform our decision-making when it comes to major, and costly, highway projects -- but focusing on the Transportation Projects Commission is missing the forest for the trees. 
Rather than reorganizing state agencies, we should start by cancelling bloated
and unneeded highway expansion projects that are wasting taxpayer money. 
Even better, he should demand that the DOT prioritize fixing it first, and ensuring that our roads and bridges are in a state of good repair before spending billionsmore on questionable highway expansion projects.”
The TPC was signed into law by GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson to ensure that major highway projects could not be built without the TPC first 'enumerating,' or green-lighting them.

Kill the TPC and you take Wisconsin to the bad old days when a Governor or legislator carrying road-builder or other friends' water could add big highway projects to the state budget - - thus also serving genuine priorities elsewhere - - without little public notice, discussion or justification beyond a 3:00 a.m. budget amendment.

When reached for comment this morning, Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of the Madison-based land use watchdog organization 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, said:
"The decision-making on transportation projects is completely broken. 
The road builders essentially make the decisions for the Wisconsin DOT.  Governor Walker proposes to throw away the broken pieces and replace them with even more insider influence. 
What we need is major overhaul of the transportation department and the decision-making process made transparent - not more opaque."
Commenting separately this morning was Milwaukee businessman and former TPC Commissioner Leonard Sobczak:
As a former member of the TPC (Transportation Projects Commission) the memory that sticks out most was the comment from Mark Wolfgram, the DOT administrator, was that DOT has to keep a steady flow of money flowing to the road builders. 
This is so that they can keep using their heavy road building equipment. I asked if any of this equipment could be used to repair roads. He said no. That this equipment can only be used to build new highways. I thought, wow, that’s a nice deal.  
The road builders, unlike other construction firms, are insulated from fluctuations in the economy by receiving a steady flow of money from government, a dependable annuity to my thinking.  
And to take it further, they use part of this government annuity money to line the pockets of politicians to keep the money flowing.
Walker calls it one of his "bold" moves - - a tired talking point, to be sure - - but in fact it only consolidates his power.

That's not bold.

Just old.


Anonymous said...

Since Walker's first day in office, he has been consolidating his power by taking decisions out of the hands of the electorate or their representatives. He continues his quest to have all of the decision-making power in the state.

And they call Obama king and emperor. In Wisconsin it is King Walker. Emperor Walker. The trouble with that is Walker often takes credit for the decisions other people make. When he makes a bad decision he always has a fall guy or gal. Teflon Walker.

Anonymous said...

More of the same but just a different way to reward the special interest donors. It won't be long before all watch dog councils or committees are gone. He has the power to do as he wishes so we can expect more of this under the guise of making government more efficient while also making it less transparent.

Betsy said...

Kill the TPC and you take Wisconsin to the bad old days when a Governor or legislator carrying road-builder or other friends' water could add big highway projects to the state budget without much public notice, discussion or justification.

Back to the future! Can he really do this?

Anonymous said...

This is terrible news. All of it. Especially the pardons board. What a creep Walker is.