Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to increase state aid for county roads would be a welcome boost for Rock County’s road projects, which are expected to cost about $23 million over five years, the Rock County administrator says.
The governor proposed the increase at last week’s annual Wisconsin Counties Association conference in La Crosse. It would bump the state’s transportation aid to counties to 30 percent of road costs in the next state budget, up from about 17 percent in 2017.
“Our plan would provide the most state funding for county roads since county general transportation aids were created in 1994,” Walker said in a news release. “Maintaining a safe and reliable transportation system is a top priority, and this additional funding will help maintain our 19,000 miles of county highways.”
Walker’s proposal comes as he faces state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 elections.
Transportation funding has been a hot-button topic in the governor’s race, with Democrats pointing to poor road conditions and low transportation funding as a sign of Walker’s failure during his two terms in office.
Walker’s proposal would be welcome in Rock County. County Administrator Josh Smith said it could give the county $1.7 million to $1.8 million more aid beginning in 2019, bumping state aid to the county from $2.3 million to between $4 and $4.1 million.
“Rock County’s had increased road funding at the top of our priority list for a long time. We would welcome funding from any source,” Smith said.
“Generally, we could use (more) general transportation aids. You could also use GTA for things like snowplows. It’s a pretty flexible source of funds. It doesn’t have to be for road construction per se.”
Smith said the county’s entire public works budget is about $18 million. About half of the budget is used for road maintenance and construction, he said.
Typically, the county budgets $860,000 to reconstruct a mile of county highway.
The county is currently reconstructing a stretch of County A where it meets County M in the eastern part of Rock County. It’s about 3.4 miles of reconstruction, so Smith said the project costs about $3 million.
Smith said the county’s capital improvement plan allocated about $23 million to maintain and rebuild county highways over the next five years. Walker’s proposal would add about $8.75 million during that time—about $14.25 million short of the capital improvement plan.
In the past few years, Smith said the county has limited its borrowing primarily to road construction projects, borrowing about $3 million a year. Borrowing for roads is a convenient way to track debt and manage the county’s finances, he said, but it’s also because transportation aid has “lagged in recent years.”
“Without borrowing, we wouldn’t have the resources to keep up,” Smith said.
Britt Cudaback, a spokeswoman for Evers, balked at Walker’s proposal and called it an election move and “empty-promise-palooza.”
“Scott Walker is about a month out from the toughest election of his career,” Cudaback said. “Wisconsinites are smarter than Scott Walker gives us credit for, and we won’t forget that because of his inaction, our roads rank 44th in the nation. Six weeks worth of empty promises won’t make up for the eight years in office that Walker has spent failing to lead.”