Special Interests Urging Lawmakers to Borrow $200 Million to Pay for Road Projects

November 4, 2015

Road Cone

Trade associations (listed below) that represent more than a dozen powerful special interest groups are pressuring a GOP-controlled tax and spending committee to approve $200 million in borrowing to pay for major road and rehabilitation projects.

The groups include manufacturers, construction, business, transportation, tourism, natural resources and energy interests, among others, that generally oppose government spending and new or increased taxes that cost their industry or members. But borrowing for transportation projects is paid for by general state income and sales tax dollars, and driver registration fees and gas taxes are paid by motorists.

All told, the special interests represented by the trade groups asking the state to spend more on roads directly contributed more than $13.1 million to current legislators between January 2011 and June 2015. In addition, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization and a supporter of the borrowing plan, spent an estimated $3.2 million since January 2011 to support Republican candidates in legislative elections.

In memos – here, here and here – to Finance Committee members, the groups generally conceded that borrowing “is not necessarily the preferred funding alternative,” but that approval of additional bonding for road projects was “imperative for Wisconsin economic success.”

Two groups were blunter. One group, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, said good roads were critical in a highly competitive industry. “Please keep in mind during your deliberations that if the current slate of projects languishes and future projects and maintenance are delayed, the direct negative impact will be on the bottom line of our members,” the group’s memo said.

Another group, the Wisconsin Propane Gas Association, said failing to approve the extra borrowing would be downright unfair. “By not approving the funding you would negatively impact our industry, and give an economic boost to our direct competitor, natural gas,” the propane group told the committee in a memo.

The request to borrow the additional $200 million for road projects was submitted by Republican Gov. Scott Walker to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which meets today. The proposed borrowing has garnered bipartisan support and opposition in recent weeks. The Joint Finance Committee is controlled by Republicans by a 12-4 margin.

The groups urging the committee to approve the $200 million in new borrowing are:

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin

Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin

American Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin

Midwest Equipment Dealers Association

Midwest Food Processors Association

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce

Transportation Development Association

Wisconsin Economic Development Association

Wisconsin Independent Businesses

Wisconsin Paper Council

Wisconsin Restaurant Association

Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association

Wisconsin Grocers Association

Wisconsin Propane Gas Association