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WI DOT Secretary Defends Borrowing $1.3B but says State will Eventually Need to Raise Revenue

Scott Feldstein

DOT Sec. Mark Gottlieb told the Legislature’s budget committee Wednesday that he understands Gov. Walker's desire to hold down taxes, by borrowing.

Under the governor's proposed two-year budget, Wisconsin would borrow $1.3 billion to help pay for road construction. Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern about kicking debt into the future.

Gottlieb had endorsed a different strategy, when he was chairman of a state commission charged with recommending how Wisconsin should fund its transportation needs, over the next decade. Costs have continued to exceed the state’s ability to pay. The commission concluded, in 2013, that the state must raise taxes and fees on both fuel and vehicles.

Dem. Rep Gordon Hintz was among members of the Joint Finance Committee who questioned the secretary about borrowing, as a sustainable method of funding roads.

"Over the long term, there will need to be additional revenues into the  transportation fund, if we are going to continue to meet the needs that we have, to build and maintain a safe and efficient system.

"The governor was not prepared to raise user fees or taxes in this budget for transportation, because we were unable to offset those increases with other tax reductions elsewhere in the budget to create an essentially tax-neutral budget," Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb said, if the choice came down to borrowing money and delaying road projects, he would opt to borrow, to keep projects on schedule and avoid higher costs in the future.

On another issue during Wednesday's budget hearing, a Dem. committee member asked the secretary why his agency covers the cost of providing bodyguards for Gov. Walker – while he’s out-of-state, raising support for a potential presidential run. Gottlieb responded that the agency must protect the governor 365 days a year.