Legislatures’ priorities mixed up

Wisconsin’s legislature seems to have its priorities mixed up. While looking through the press releases on The Wheeler Report, I noticed that there are some important issues on the table. The first is clearing snow from roads, which is a common occurrence in Wisconsin during the winter. During the 2003-05 Biennial Budget process, the Legislature denied an increase for highway maintenance; this includes snowplowing, brush clearing, and lane striping. However, it had no problem in increasing highway construction projects expenditures. Assembly Speaker John Gard, one of the representatives that pushed for increased construction spending, called the Wisconsin Department of Transportation irresponsible and complained about the high gas taxes in this state. However, he always seems to forget (or is unaware) that Wisconsin’s DOT provides more services than most other state DOTs, because we have our State Patrol and Motor Vehicles divisions in the agency. Furthermore, we are one of the few state DOTs that do not receive funding from general tax collections. Additionally, our DOT is also paying money to the general fund to help with the school fund in this biennium; and you wonder why we need to “slash” funding for the maintenance program? In addition, there were no increases in business areas of our agency, including State Patrol and Motor Vehicles, due to these payments to the General Fund and so we could continue to keep the highway construction program moving. In fact, rather than maintain the level of public safety and motor vehicle services, 2003 Wisconsin Act 33 (the biennial budget) cut citizen-level positions in both of these DOT divisions. So, if DOT cannot afford to keep maintenance at previous-year levels, Representative Gard should have his name at the top of the blame list.

Second, I am not a Republican, but I am really impressed with two Republican senators’ stand on state funding for the Great Circus Parade. Senator Bob Welch wants to introduce legislation that would require the State to help fund the Circus Parade. However, Senators Michael Ellis and Rob Cowles disagree. Senator Ellis said, “If we have $1.5 million to spend, we ought to spend that to ensure that highways all over Wisconsin are safe throughout the entire winter season before we spend it to save a parade that lasts 10 hours on a summer day in the City of Milwaukee.” Kudos to Ellis and Cowles for realizing where the State’s priorities lie.

Third, as of Monday we’ve hit 793 highway fatalities this year. Last year we reached a 12-year record high of 805. With the snow and the upcoming holidays, we’ll likely break that this year. Just think, we kill more people on the roads every year than gun violence or airplane crashes, yet we rarely think much about it. The press in this area has been really helpful in bringing this issue to the forefront, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Finally, my new soapbox article is officially here! I’ve also cleaned up My Soapbox page to make it easier to read in most browsers. Coming soon: My New Year resolutions.