Wis. lawmakers unveil DOT reform bill

By Kevin Carr, WSAW News 

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) -- Proposed legislation unveiled Thursday deals with what lawmakers call mismanagement at the Department of Transportation.

The package of proposed bills come after an audit earlier this year showed that the DOT underestimated costs for 16 major highway projects across the state to the tune of approximately $3.1 billion.

A couple major components to the proposed reforms include assigning an inspector general to the DOT for maintaining accountability within the agency, and eliminating the state and highway prevailing wage law. The prevailing wage law sets minimum salary requirements for those who work on public projects.

Some lawmakers view the proposals as a good first step.

Republican Senator Patrick Testin of Stevens Point points to the Highway 10 project which spans from Marshfield to Appleton. The January audit showed the original cost of the construction of the roadway was supposed to be $125 million.

"So far it's cost 550 million," Testin explained. "So that's a prime example that we can do better. We need to do better to get these projects done and on time and under budget, and be accountable to the taxpayers."

Democractic Representative Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point said lawmakers need to focus on the current budget impasse first.

"We still do not have a budget anywhere in sight," Shankland said. "I'm actually concerned about making sure we repair our roads first. I don't see any proposal in this package that will move our budget forward and get the budget passed. I want to get a budget done that gives money back to our local government so that they can repair the roads, and I want to move from there to a DOT audit."

Testin believes the legislation may actually help with that situation.

"I think there are some good talking points in there and some good discussion pieces that kind of move the needle and help solve the budget impasse," Testin said.

Shankland said even if a budget was already passed, she would not vote for the current bill, since it eliminates the state and highway prevailing wage law.

"I support prevailing wage because it keeps Wisconsin jobs local and keeps our workers local. I don't like to see out of state workers come in," Shankland explained.

Testin sees things differently.

"I think, it's a hard sell to ask tax payers to pay more for a project than what the fair market would demand," Testin said.

Despite different viewpoints on the subject, both sides do agree on the consensus that DOT reform is needed in the future.

The Wisconsin DOT Public Affairs office issued a statement to NewsChannel 7 stating, "Months ago, shortly after his appointment, Secretary Ross directed WisDOT staff to review and re-prioritize all projects, streamline processes and find more efficiencies. This process is well underway. As he has stated multiple times, Secretary Ross welcomes all ideas to make WisDOT more efficient and accountable."