We're making steady progress in the legislature to advance AB 1/SB 1, the bill I authored with Senator Devin LeMahieu to pave the way for the Masters Gallery Foods development in Oostburg. Oostburg Village President Allen Wrubbel, advisor Phil Cosson, and Masters Gallery executives Mark Grasse and Jodi Schoener made the trip to Madison yesterday to explain to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee how important this project is for Sheboygan County. The bill has already passed in the Senate, and I expect quick action in the Assembly as well.
In last week's newsletter, I shared the good news that the legislature expects to enter the 2017-19 state budget process with nearly $2 billion more revenue than we had previously expected. I support the Assembly's recently announced framework that would return at least $300 million of that money to taxpayers while still providing extra support for education and transportation.
As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions. Best wishes on your weekend!
Fixing Our Roads, Part 3: Diagnosing the Root Causes
Yesterday, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau published its audit of the State Highway Program. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said it well: the report demonstrates that Wisconsin has been trying to do too much with too little, and as a result, taxpayers haven't been getting their money's worth.
Not all the news is bad. The study found that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) generally had effective oversight of its highway maintenance programs and construction bidding processes. And the agency has established performance measure goals to improve the ways it does business. Other findings, however, were more disappointing. The single biggest problem identified in the report is that the actual costs of our major construction projects have been much higher than the expected costs. In too many instances, DOT has not solicited multiple bidders for projects. And even though DOT has implemented a lot of performance goals that make sense, it has been unable to actually meet many of those goals.
My colleagues and I will be digging more deeply into this report in the days ahead. The report suggests several corrective measures, and the Assembly has already insisted that DOT review and confirm the cost estimates of ongoing projects prior to legislative action on the state budget this spring.
Perhaps one of the most important takeaways is that there is no easy cure for either the symptoms or the disease. Even if every recommendation in the report is acted upon, we would save about $43 million per year. That's a lot of money, and every little bit certainly helps... but it's a far cry from closing the estimated $1.3 billion (or more) gap that currently exists every year between our transportation revenues and spending.
The Public Is Welcome to Attend!
Wisconsin's State Capitol building is turning 100 years old! The official kickoff celebration event will occur on Tuesday, January 31st in the rotunda of the State Capitol, with Governor Scott Walker speaking and with featured guest former Governor Tommy Thompson in attendance.
In my opinion, which may be a little biased, Wisconsin has the grandest of all the states' capitols. I strongly recommend that you take a few minutes to check out our Capitol's very own website. My favorite is the "History" page. Did you know, for example, that Wisconsin has had four Capitol buildings? Or that, during the 1930s, we had an enormous 13' by 12' electric "W" on the side of the building that faced toward the UW campus and was lit up with red light bulbs on Badger football weekends? Give the website a try for yourself!