Gov. to Raid Transportation Fund

Sat February 26, 2005 - Midwest Edition

MADISON, WI (AP) Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget proposal would shift $490 million out of the state transportation fund, the state Department of Transportation’s budget chief said.

Doyle had said in his budget address that he planned to move $250 million in gas tax and license fee dollars from transportation to the state’s deficit-plagued general fund during the next two years, and borrow $250 million to replenish the transportation fund.

But DOT budget chief Casey Newman said that, in addition to that amount, the budget would continue the shift of $120 million into school aid, plus another $52 million to cover school busing costs. Another $18 million, saved by cutting administrative costs, would move into the general fund in 2006-07 to help with deficit reduction.

And nearly $50 million would be transferred to other state agencies, reviving a practice that had been discontinued in the state’s 1997-99 budget, said Newman and Jon Dyck, an analyst with the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

That includes $7.50 of each vehicle title fee, which brings in $22 million that Doyle would move to the state Department of Natural Resources, Dyck said.

But officials noted that the total move still would be less than the $675 million shifted in the 2003-05 state budget.

Bob Cook, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, said the transfer amounted to a tax increase.

“A lot of the transfers in this budget will continue in future budgets,” he said.

But Melanie Fonder, a spokeswoman for the governor, disagreed.

“If the trend lines are what you’re looking at, the trend lines are going down,” she said. “Transferring $250 million to help fund schools and get property tax relief is reasonable and responsible.”

The transfer was supported by Brett Hulsey, senior Midwest representative of the Sierra Club.

“Our rationale is highways are the No. 1 cause of sprawl [and] schools are the No. 1 thing affected by sprawl,” he said. “Therefore, it’s reasonable to spend the money on schools.”

State Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee), questioned why the budget assumed a 13 percent increase in federal highway aid when Honadel said a 5 percent increase was more likely.

Newman said the higher figure was based on past experience.

Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said it was too early to tell what would happen with federal transportation aid and conceded “I don’t have a Plan B” if federal highway aid turns out to be substantially less than the $620 million budgeted.