MADISON, Wis. - The State Department of Transportation announced Monday it has a plan to address a more newly projected a more than $63 million deficit for the next budget.
However, that plan could come at the cost of area highway departments.
"Some of the individual cuts could impact us, so it depends on how things play out through the legislative process," explained Brown County Public Works Engineering Manager Paul Fontecchio.
Those with Brown County Public Works plan to keep a close eye on the changing plans.
The fund is the state's major source of money for highway improvements and maintenance, aid to local governments for road work, the State Patrol and the Division of Motor Vehicles. Republican Gov. Scott Walker's 2013-15 executive transportation budget estimated the fund would finish fiscal year 2015 with a $12.6 million deficit.
But the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released projections late last week that show a $63.5 million shortfall in the fund on June 30, 2015, thanks largely to dwindling gas tax revenue.
The bureau believes the state will see an $85.3 million drop over two years, based on fuel price projections and disposable income.
However, the bureau said some of that deficit will be offset by revenue increases from other sources.
On Monday, the DOT announced its plans to address the deficit.
The plan calls for saving $19 million by pushing back funding an Interstate 94 interchange upgrade in Milwaukee County until the next budget. The interchange reconstruction is part of a larger multi-year project to upgrade the interstate between Milwaukee and the Illinois border.
The agency also wants to delay reconstruction work on a portion of Milwaukee's Zoo Interchange, saving $14 million; cut $7.3 million from a program that funds major highway projects in the first year of the budget but restore it in the second; cut $4.3 million from road aid for local governments in year one and restore it in year two; reduce funding for a Milwaukee-to-Chicago Amtrak passenger rail line by $1.1 million across the two-year spending plan; and cut $900,000 from a program designed to reduce congestion.
The agency went on to suggest cutting $2.5 million from payments that go to municipalities for maintaining state highways and pushing back hiring 24 new State Patrol vehicle inspectors until fiscal year 2015.
In an email, Peg Schmitt with WisDOT Office of Public Affairs wrote: "WisDOT believes it provides a fair and reasonable path forward that addresses the most pressing needs of the state's transportation system in a fiscally responsible way."
But the idea of potential cuts worries area highway departments.
"The maintenance is very important especially when transportation dollars are so difficult to come by," explained Manitowoc County Highway Department Director Gary Kennedy. "We feel strongly not only on state highways but our local highways, maintenance is very important."
"If we have less money to maintain the roads, we'll maintain proportionally less roads, I mean everything comes at a cost," Fontecchio.
Lawmakers have been worrying about the transportation fund's solvency for years. The fund consists largely of gas tax and vehicle registration revenue, but people have been driving less in more fuel-efficient cars and registering fewer vehicles.
Most of the program cuts would be restored in the second year of the 2013-2015 budget, and the Milwaukee projects should still be completed on schedule, DOT officials said.
The Joint Finance Committee will take up the DOT's budget plan on Tuesday.
Here is a closer look at the WisDOT's plan submitted to the Joint Finance Committee:
1. Delay work on parts of the I-94 North-South and Zoo Interchange projects - $33 million
- Delay Ryan Road Interchange to FY15/17: $19 million
- Defer part of Core 1 Zoo let: $14 million (no impact on Zoo completion in 2018 assuming funds restored in FY15/17)
2. State Highway Rehabilitation (SHR) Program reduction - $12.3 million
- Take reduction in FY14, return to base in FY15
3. Major Highway Program reduction - $7.3 million
- Take reduction in FY14, return to base in FY15
4. General Transportation Aids (GTA) reduction - $4.3 million (1% across the board cut in CY 14)
- Formulaic 1% reduction in CY14, return to base in CY15
5. Passenger Rail Hiawatha service reduction - $1.1 million
- Described in Alternative 2 of LFB Paper 648
6. Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program reduction – $0.9 million
- Maintain funding in FY14 for train concourse at MIS, take reduction in FY15
7. State Highway Routine Maintenance Agreement (RMA) reduction - $2.5 million
- Formulaic 1% reduction
8. Delay new Division of State Patrol commercial motor vehicle inspector positions to FY15 - $2.0 million
- Savings from salary and fringe
Total savings: $63.4 million
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