GOP bill would boost DOT oversight, repeal prevailing wage

WisDOT photo.

GOP legislators are looking to add more oversight to the Department of Transportation and fully repeal the state’s prevailing wage law in a new bill out Thursday.

More than 20 legislators have already signed onto the legislation, which comes as top Republican leaders try to work through a transportation budget deadlock.

It also comes as Republicans in both caucuses firm up support for including prevailing wage repeal in the state transportation budget — with some drawing a hard line in the sand on the issue.

While the bill doesn’t include any suggested budget fixes, it does adopt a series of non-fiscal policy items that the Joint Finance Committee previously removed from Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, as well as a provision to require local governments to get voter approval before enacting a wheel tax.

Rep. Rob Hutton, one of the lead authors of the bill, said the legislation spelled out areas that “could be and should be reformed before we start talking about any need to raise additional revenues.”

“We want to ensure any tax dollar we collect is being used as efficiently as possible,” the Brookfield Republican said.

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The legislation was sparked by a critical audit of the agency’s highway program in January that showed the agency underestimated by $3.8 billion the costs for major highway work completed over the past decade or still in progress.

It also would require an outside audit of the agency be conducted before next August and assign an inspector general to DOT who would be directed to report any findings of waste, abuse or inefficiency to various legislative leaders.

DOT spokeswoman Patty Mayers said shortly after Secretary Dave Ross’ appointment, he began directing the agency to “review and reprioritize all projects, streamline processes and find more efficiencies.”

“As he has stated multiple times, Secretary Ross welcomes all ideas to make WisDOT more efficient and accountable,” she said.

Meanwhile, some GOP legislators are noting growing support for adding a provision to fully repeal the state’s prevailing wage law in the transportation budget.

GOP Sen. Leah Vukmir, one of the co-authors of a bill to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law for state projects, said in a tweet that “any viable transportation budget proposal must include a full repeal of prevailing wage.”

Speaker Robin Vos, responding to the message, said in a tweet he “agreed” with Vukmir, R-Brookfield. He also wrote in a separate statement “a full repeal of prevailing wage is an essential component of a DOT reform package.”

Hutton, who also co-authored the prevailing wage repeal bill, said there seems to be a “strong consensus” in both caucuses to include repealing prevailing wage in the transportation budget, He noted some of his colleagues would have a “difficult time supporting it” without the provision. Still, he said, it’s not make or break for him.

“I’m concerned that we get prevailing wage done in the budget or a standalone bill,” he said. “It’s important reform legislation regardless of how or where it gets passed.”

Vos also said he supports “many of the reforms and would like to see them included in a comprehensive package to address the transportation needs of our state.”

And Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the Juneau Republican is “pleased to see” GOP legislators looking to improve DOT’s efficiency.

A spokesman for Walker did not immediately return a request for comment.

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