Committee action began this week on Assembly Bill 1/Senate Bill 1, a bill that Senator Devin LeMahieu and I introduced that paves the way for Masters Gallery Foods, Inc., based in Sheboygan County, to create 120 new jobs in Oostburg over the next few years. Representatives from Oostburg and from the company did a great job discussing the project and answering questions in this week's Senate committee hearing; in fact, the committee has already voted 7-0 in favor of recommending passage of the bill in the Senate. I'm really proud of Wisconsin's workforce and our state's recovering economy, and I'm glad that this local business is committed to creating new family-supporting jobs right here in Sheboygan County instead of moving its planned expansion to another state.
In case you missed it, Governor Scott Walker delivered his annual State of the State Address this week as well. The Governor and the Republican legislature have been working constantly to make Wisconsin a better place to live and work. I particularly agree with the Governor that we need to keep prioritizing the readiness of our workforce over the next few years so that qualified employees are ready to help our economy grow.
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 1: Admitting We Have a Problem
Perhaps the single toughest issue facing the state government this spring is to work toward a sustainable long-term plan for Wisconsin's road system. Over the past several months, my Assembly Republican colleagues and I have been collecting research so that we can sort out fact from fiction and find the best possible plan, and in the next few weeks, I want to use this newsletter to let you know about some of our early findings.
We're getting closer to having the right information. In last week's newsletter, I shared with you this collection of testimony gathered at a December 2016 hearing of the Assembly Transportation Committee as well as this set of new reports from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. I also want to share with you this recent summary of Wisconsin's transportation situation that was produced by Assembly Republicans. Some highlights:
Wisconsin collects about $2 billion per year in transportation revenues (mainly through the existing gas tax and your annual vehicle registration fees). We borrow almost another $500 million per year to make ends meet, and we also receive around $800 million per year in federal money. But it's been estimated that, just to keep up with current conditions, we could still be short by about $1.3 billion per year over the next few years.
Wisconsin's existing 30.9 cents/gallon gas tax is already among the highest in the nation. For every additional penny that we might increase the tax, the state would net about $33 million per year in new revenue. That might sound like a lot. But in reality, that means that it would take an outrageous and impossible 40 cents/gallon increase in the gas tax (more than double the existing high tax) just to keep up with current conditions and make up the existing $1.3 billion/year shortfall.
There are no easy answers to our state's transportation question. There is no nice, easy gas tax increase that can "just fix it." Although we have already made some important spending cuts, we can't cut all the way to a real solution; we have real needs that already aren't being suitably met. And although sensible borrowing can be part of a sustainable plan, we already spend almost 20 cents of every Transportation Fund dollar paying down the borrowing that has already occurred. (Our challenge is not unique, by the way; practically every state, not to mention the federal government, faces the same looming set of questions that Wisconsin faces.)
What we're learning is that, just as our transportation funding challenge has been years in the making, working toward a proper solution is probably going to be years in the making as well. The right plan begins with understanding the facts. Next week, I'll share some details about what we have done already to start getting spending under control, reducing waste and making best possible use of taxpayers' money.
Coming Soon: Public Listening Session
Senator Devin LeMahieu, Representative Tyler Vorpagel and I (who collectively represent Sheboygan County in the state legislature) have scheduled the first of our public listening sessions for the 2017-18 legislative session. These listening sessions are great opportunities for the general public to meet us in person, ask questions and share comments and concerns directly with us. I hope to see you there!
Monday, January 23rd
2:00 PM - 2:45 PM
Mead Public Library, 710 N. 8th St, Sheboygan
Rocca Conference Room, 1st Floor