Democrats hammer Walker on road funding during Wausau stop, claim Evers would be 'adult in the room' to strike long-term fixSubmitted: 08/21/2018
Lane Kimble
Lane Kimble
News Director

Democrats hammer Walker on road funding during Wausau stop, claim Evers would be 'adult in the room' to strike long-term fix
WAUSAU - Construction crews continue to work on highway projects near Woodruff and west of Rhinelander this week, but Roger Putnam wants to see the people he represents fixing roads for the long run.

"It's a problem that everyone can agree upon," Putnam said of transportation funding.  "It's not even a partisan issue anymore."

The Wisconsin Operating Engineers Local 139 spokesman shared those thoughts outside the Marathon County Democratic offices in Wausau on Tuesday morning in front of lawmakers, 85th Assembly District Candidate Alyson Leahy, and fellow union members.

"I would say that the tough decisions that need to be made have not been made by the governor," Putnam said.

Putnam's message is also reaching a statewide audience. His union is behind the "Pardon our Scott-holes" billboard campaign along freeways, calling out Governor Walker for not doing enough to fix the roads.

"When it starts to affect people's pocketbooks, people pay attention," Putnam said.

Democrats point to an InfrastructureReportcard.org chart showing Wisconsinites pay an average of $637 per year in car maintenance from driving on rough roads. The chart, which is run on a website sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, shows those rates run about $100 less in Minnesota and Michigan.

"It's all because of a fixation [Walker] has against doing anything adult, like making sure we have the resources," western-Wisconsin lawmaker Dana Wachs said after Tuesday's press conference.

Wachs (D-Eau Claire) says Walker largely ignored a 2011 study, which suggested raising the gas tax and license fees would offer more road funding. Newswatch 12 asked Wachs how gubernatorial nominee Tony Evers would differ in his approach.

"I'm not sure exactly where his plans are at this nanosecond, but he's talked over and over again about the importance of education and the importance of transportation resources," Wachs answered.

Wisconsin Republicans acknowledge there's cause for concern. It took more than two extra months to pass the state budget in 2017, largely because Walker stood firm on not raising taxes for roads, preferring more borrowing and delaying some projects.

"We maintain that all options should be on the table," Representative Rob Swearingen told Newswatch 12, stopping in Wausau on his way down to meetings at the state Capitol.

Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) believes the governor should consider higher taxes to fix roads, even after putting $10 million into local road and bridge repairs and $56 million into the transportation fund. However, Swearingen, who says he respects the governor's stance on funding, wants Walker to limit how much borrowing lawmakers put on the "state credit card."

"I don't know if he'll change his tune on that or not," Swearingen said. "We'll see as some of these figures start unveiling themselves as we get closer to the end of this budget... Yeah, there are people that are willing to pay a bit more [in gas tax or registration fees], but obviously some people think that they're paying way too much in the first place."

Democrats also attacked Walker for focusing his attention on the Foxconn deal instead of statewide road repairs.  The deal offers tax breaks for the Taiwan-based manufacturer if it hits certain standards in building a $10 billion manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin.

Swearingen said the issues aren't really linked, calling Foxconn a boost for the entire state and "a part of the puzzle" in helping Wisconsin's economy grow.

Swearingen also wants to learn more about the possibility of toll roads in Wisconsin, which would require a federal waiver. Democrats say a change in state leadership is the only way to find out what a long-term fix will be.

"How much more [will people pay] is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak," Putnam said. "Right now we're at zero, so it has to be more than that."

The Wisconsin State Journal reports the gas tax last went up in Wisconsin in 2006. Republicans did include new fees on hybrid and electric cars in the state budget last year.

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