The Bond Buyer - - Front Page - By yvette ShieldS

mov­ing closer to fi­nal votes on an over­due two-year bud­get plan af­ter set­tling on a trans­porta­tion fund­ing pack­age that crit­ics and even sup­port­ers warned falls short of tack­ling state needs . . . . . . . . . . . . .

CHICAGO — Wis­con­sin’s GOP lead­er­ship is mov­ing closer to fi­nal votes on an over­due two-year bud­get plan af­ter set­tling on a trans­porta­tion fund­ing pack­age that crit­ics and even sup­port­ers warned falls short of tack­ling state needs.

Dif­fer­ences be­tween Repub­li­cans law­mak­ers over trans­porta­tion bor­row­ing and taxes has been the key stick­ing point hold­ing up pas­sage of a roughly $67 bil­lion, two-year bud­get for the fis­cal cy­cle that be­gan July 1.

The plan ap­proved by the leg­is­la­ture’s key bud­get-writ­ing Joint Fi­nance Com­mit­tee late Tues­day in a party-line vote puts off some ma­jor projects, in­cludes $400 mil­lion of bor­row­ing, raises an­nual fees on hybrid and elec­tric ve­hi­cles, and funds ad­di­tional stud­ies on im­ple­ment­ing tolling.

The agree­ment fails to tackle an es­ti­mated $1 bil­lion short­fall in the state’s trans­porta­tion fund­ing needs to main­tain and im­prove roads, but it ap­peared the best the state could ac­com­plish given deep di­vi­sions on how to make up the gap.

House lead­ers sup­ported a gaso­line tax in­crease and lim­ited bor­row­ing with­out cor­re­spond­ing new rev­enue to sup­port it. Gov. Scott Walker had orig­i­nally pro­posed $500 mil­lion in bor­row­ing and op­posed the tax hike or higher reg­is­tra­tion fees. Se­nate lead­ers had en­dorsed as much as $850 mil­lion in bor­row­ing.

“While this bud­get is not a so­lu­tion to our trans­porta­tion fund­ing prob­lem, we are tak­ing a step in the right di­rec­tion,” Joint Fi­nance co-chair Rep. John Ny­gren, R-Marinette, said in a state­ment.

“We have lim­ited our re­liance on bond­ing, adopted im­por­tant re­forms, and sent the mes­sage to state tax­pay­ers that we won’t spend what we can’t af­ford,” Ny­gren said.

“This bud­get in­cludes more trans­porta­tion fund­ing for all lev­els of govern­ment to pro­vide bet­ter roads and bridges and his­tor­i­cally low lev­els of bor­row­ing. We did all of this with­out rais­ing taxes,” Walker said in a state­ment.

Democrats voiced frus­tra­tion that af­ter two-month bud­get de­lay, the state still lacks a plan to ma­te­ri­ally lift trans­porta­tion fund­ing lev­els.

“Repub­li­cans spent more than two months squab­bling with each other and this is the re­sult – a spend­ing plan that still doesn’t cre­ate a sus­tain­able fund­ing so­lu­tion, that is lit­tered with po­lit­i­cal pork for their bud­dies, and sneaks in non-bud­get pol­icy changes that strip lo­cal con­trol from coun­ties, towns, and cities across Wis­con­sin,” As­sem­bly Mi­nor­ity Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a state­ment.

About $150 mil­lion of the $400 mil­lion in bond­ing au­tho­riza­tion would be re­paid from trans­porta­tion rev­enues with the other $250 mil­lion re­ly­ing on gen­eral fund sup­port to fi­nance in­ter­state im­prove­ments tied to the Fox­conn plant pro­posed for south­east­ern Wis­con­sin that re­lies on $3 bil­lion in state sub­si­dies.

Un­der the plan, own­ers of hybrid ve­hi­cles face a $75 fee which would gen­er­ate about $8 mil­lion for two-year pack­age. The plan strips some lo­cal reg­u­la­tions on quar­ries that pro­duce ma­te­ri­als such as gravel for trans­porta­tion re­lated projects, pre­vail­ing wage re­quire­ments were lifted, pub­lic fund­ing for a Mil­wau­kee street­car was lim­ited, and $2.5 mil­lion would be spent to study tolling which would re­quire fed­eral ap­proval.

“This bud­get misses the op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide a re­li­able and sus­tain­able longterm rev­enue source to meet the cur­rent trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture needs in Wis­con­sin and does noth­ing to ad­dress the $1 bil­lion short­fall in the trans­porta­tion fund,” said Pat Goss, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wis­con­sin Trans­porta­tion Builders As­so­ci­a­tion. The group did praise the drop in bor­row­ing and tax on hy­brids.

The com­mit­tee was ex­pected to wrap up work on other dif­fer­ences in the over­all bud­get Wed­nes­day, al­low­ing a fi­nal pack­age that in­cludes the trans­porta­tion plan to soon go be­fore the As­sem­bly and Se­nate.

Wis­con­sin car­ries dou­ble-A rat­ings from three of four rat­ing agen­cies. Moody’s In­vestors Ser­vice raised the state’s rat­ing to Aa1 last month.

The Joint Fi­nance Com­mit­tee also on Tues­day ap­proved re­vised leg­is­la­tion to pro­vide the $3 bil­lion in in­cen­tives for the Fox­conn plant.

The changes al­tered a bill pre­vi­ously ap­proved by the As­sem­bly.

The new ver­sion will go be­fore the Se­nate for a vote Sept. 12. One change speeds up any lit­i­ga­tion tied to the project al­low­ing it to by­pass the ap­pel­late court to be heard by the Wis­con­sin Supreme Court.

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