The 2013-2015 budget (AB40) Governor Walker submitted to the State Assembly yesterday proposes to increase the biennial transportation budget from $5.7 billion to $6.4 billion. Hold on though, even though the pie just got a lot bigger, the slice for people who ride bikes is significantly smaller. I have consolidated the many line items that make up each program into the simple table below. I also added the total amount of money that the federal transportation budget makes available to Wisconsin.
You can see that the federal transportation budget has made a little more than $89 million available to Wisconsin in funding categories that can be used to pay for bicycle facilities. You can also see that the governor’s budget only proposes to spend about $51 million (compared to nearly $70 million in the last budget). So where is the remaining $38 million going? The federal transportation budget allows states to shift 50% of the Transportation Alternatives funds to highway projects. While you can’t exactly trace the dollars, I’m sure we are not giving that money back to the feds.
Another big problem in the budget is the language that allows WisDOT to take back money for Transportation Alternatives Program projects if the municipalities don’t spend the money within four years. That same rule is not in place for road project funds. While everyone wants to get projects done quickly, the red tape of very confusing and sometimes contradictory WisDOT forms along with the new delays caused by the Master Consultant project review process often means it takes longer than four years to get a project going. I could give you countless “Parks and Rec” kind of examples of things that slow project approval down.
If you are a bike person, someone who cares about transit and walking, or even if you are a strict user-pay user-benefit fiscal conservative, there is a lot not to like in this transportation budget: from increased borrowing, transfers from the general fund, transit fund transfers to the general fund, and selling power plants to pay down transportation, etc.
But the bottom line to bike folks is that even though there is a lot more money in the proposed two-year state transportation budget, this budget not only shorts us the money the feds are offering, it allocate even less money than was in the last state budget. That is quite a double whammy.
If you care about this, it is extremely important to remember that the state legislature still has until some time around July to modify and approve the budget. That gives advocates, business leaders and civic leader who care about our treasured bicycle assets time to talk to their elected representatives in the Senate and Assembly to convince them to restore the full funding for programs that fund bicycle projects.
The easiest way to effect change is to call, email or meet with the people who represent you in the State Capitol and tell them that you would like them to spend every one of the comparatively few dollars the feds give Wisconsin for bike projects on bike projects. It is also critically important that people who care about funding for bicycle projects come to the Bike Fed’s Lobby Day, April 9th. We do a lot of the work for you by setting up meetings for constituents in each district. We also give you clear, detailed information so you can make an intelligent ask.
In the mean time, we are working to set up a meeting with the Governor and key legislative leaders to explain all the good that bicycling does for Wisconsin. From the nearly $2 billion economic impact to the quality of life benefits that make our state a great place to live and an attractive place to do business, few things have as high a return on investment as bicycling.
So please, contact your elected state officials and tell them you bike and you vote, and stay tuned here for updates.