WisBusiness: DOT secretary lauds less borrowing, more maintenance and stronger finances

By Ryan Cardarella

For WisBusiness.com

MILWAUKEE — Citing borrowing reductions and a stronger transportation fund, state DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb lauded Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget and its boost to state highway maintenance.

Gottlieb, during his Tuesday appearance before the Milwaukee Rotary Club, applauded the new budget for facing “systemic problems head on” and believes that it will put the department and the state on firmer financial footing. He also credited the budget for maintaining critical services without raising fees and taxes in a difficult economic environment.

“This budget meets the needs of our department while working with the resources and the revenues that we have,” said Gottlieb. “Now is not the time to be raising taxes and fees in Wisconsin.”

Walker’s budget is slated to reduce department borrowing by $150 million in the next biennium and redirect 7.5 percent of all automotive-related purchases back into the state’s transportation fund, resulting in an additional $35 million in revenue.

DOT currently draws about 90 percent of its revenue from registrations, representing an over-reliance on fees that Gottlieb is optimistic the new budget will alleviate.

“We hope this will open the door for a broader base of funding for the department and will result in a much more sustainable financial future,” said Gottlieb.

In terms of prioritizing that funding base, Gottlieb identified the Zoo Interchange as a top priority for the department, calling it “Wisconsin’s gateway to Illinois and the southern states.”

He also noted that some work on I-94 stretching south toward the Illinois border will be pushed back to expedite the Zoo Interchange project.

Gottlieb identified highway maintenance as the main area in which the department can improve, citing a $30 million addition in the budget aimed at improving state roadways.

“It is an area that we have admittedly fallen down a bit on,” he said. “But it is definitely on our radar screen, and we are committed to making the investments necessary to improve in that area.”

Traffic fatalities are also down across the state, with the success of the “Zero in Wisconsin” program and other initiatives aimed at reducing automobile accidents cited as the catalyst for the drop. Gottlieb reported that state traffic fatalities in May and June were the lowest over that time period since World War II.

“It’s becoming a real success story in Wisconsin,” he said.