Wisconsin Voters Sound Off on Transportation Fund Raids

MacIver News Service | November 3, 2010

[Madison, Wisc…] Voters across the Wisconsin want to stop the raids on the State Transportation Fund.

Voters in 53 counties passed advisory referenda that read: “Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund?.”

“We are not surprised by these results. They reflect what we have been hearing from people in every corner of the state for a long time,” said Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin. “Fifty-four county boards simply gave the people the opportunity to be heard on this issue, and they are sending a clear directive to the state legislature. They want transportation money to be used for transportation purposes and they believe amending the constitution is the best way to accomplish that.”

Unofficial Results

The measure passed Tuesday by an average of more than 70 percent. Margins that ranged from 61.5 percent in Trempealeau County to 85.1 percent in Dodge County. The same measure passed in Racine County earlier this year by a three-to-one margin.

Ninety two  percent of state funding in the transportation fund came from the gas tax and vehicle registration fees in the 2007-09 biennium., according to the Department of Transportation.

Since 2003, nearly $1.3 billion of the funds, supposedly reserved for maintaining and improving Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure, have been diverted by Governor Doyle and legislature for other uses.

According to a 2009 report from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the raids from the last three budgets have been used to finance a variety of purposes other than those for which the funds were reserved.

“The 2003-05 budget act used a combination of direct appropriations from the transportation fund for general fund programs (shared revenue and K-12 education aids) and a transfer of revenues from the transportation fund to the general fund, for a total of $675.0 million.”

The report continues: “The 2005-07 biennial budget act made a transfer of $427.0 million from the transportation fund to the general fund, but did not make any direct appropriations from the transportation fund to general fund programs.”

Finally, “The 2007-09 budget act (Act 20) and the 2008-09 budget adjustment act (Act 226) together resulted in a transfer of $155 million from the transportation fund to the general fund.“

The six-year total of transfers and appropriations from the transportation fund was $1.257 billion. Adding to it, the current budget includes raids of at least $66 million.

The funds taken out of the transportation fund are offset by increased state borrowing.

The 2009-11 state budget authorizes transportation bonding of $1.304 billion, which is an increase of $767 million in borrowing over the 2007-09 budget, which already was in addition to a 96 percent increase in transportation fund supported bonds between 2002 and 2006, according to another analysis conducted by the LFB.

The Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin is part of Finding Forward, a multi-association coalition that worked to get the referendum placed on the ballot. Finding Forward says their grassroots efforts are supported by a diverse group of partners including private businesses, organized labor, regional planning interests, county and municipal officials, agricultural and housing organizations, and more.