The Joint Finance Committee tweaked Gov. Scott Walker’s plan for a boost in federal highway aids, putting more of the money toward fixing Wisconsin’s deteriorating bridges and less into knocking out I-94 north-south to, at least partially, benefit the Foxconn plant in Racine County.
The discussion turned into a rehash of the long-running debate over transportation funding, the quality of Wisconsin’s roads and GOP priorities for highways. Dems also continued to slam Foxconn, portraying the move to direct money to I-94 as another cost to taxpayers to help the foreign corporation.
GOP Sen. Howard Marklein, a top Dem target this fall, split with his Republican colleagues and opposed their motion to revamp how the money will be spent as the proposal cleared JFC 10-5. He joined Dems in support of their motion, which sought to redirect funds away from I-94, complaining Foxconn is already getting enough from state taxpayers.
Putting more tax dollars into the project means continuing to ignore the deteriorating local roads, Dems argued. Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said the additional federal money ultimately comes from taxpayers across the state.
“What a shame the whole state is not benefiting from it,” Taylor said.
Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, rejected the Dem characterization of the I-94 north-south work benefiting only Foxconn. She noted the project was originally begun under Dem Gov. Jim Doyle and said the stretch of interstate is key for Wisconsin tourism and commerce as a major corridor in the southeastern part of the state.
She also said I-94 is now much better in Illinois than it is in Wisconsin, saying the state needs to make overhauling that stretch of highway a priority.
“This is not the Foxconn highway,” Darling said.
The state received $67.4 million in unexpected federal transportation aid for the current fiscal year, and the Walker administration wanted to put $30 million of that into funding working on an additional 49 local bridges with the rest going to the price tag for finishing I-94.
But the committee approved $22 million of what Walker wanted for I-94, and directed the other $15.4 million the administration wanted for the project to other uses. It signed off on the $30 million Walker wanted for bridge work and added another $8.6 million, which is expected to cover work on another 21 bridges.
The remaining $6.7 million would go to the state highway rehabilitation fund.
Marklein, R-Spring Green, said there were things he liked in the GOP proposal, particularly dedicating more money to bridges. But he couldn’t support the proposed mix of money.
“My goal was to try to get as much of this additional federal money to our locals through the state highway rehabilitation program as possible,” Marklein said.
The I-94 north-south work is expected to cost some $500 million, though the final price tag will not be known until the bids are put out. So far, the state has approved $252.4 million in bonding for the project and received a $160 million federal grant last week to help cover the costs.
Along with the federal money approved Thursday, the final piece of funding for the project is expected to come from revenues that have built up through the sale of transportation bonds. That includes what are called bond premiums. Because rates have been low, investors are willing to pay additional money upfront on top of the amount of bonds issued.
The administration said it isn’t sure yet how much from those bond sale proceeds would be needed to cover the rest of the cost for the I-94 project because the final price tag is not known.