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The Northwestern - House Highway Bill Bust for Wisconsin

Op-Ed

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Location: Oshkosh, WI

By Unknown

Kudos to Congressman Tom Petri for calling a federal highway transportation bill, dubbed the "American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012" by the House leadership, for what it regardless of who is behind the measure.

"It's not a jobs bill for Wisconsin," Petri, a Republican from Fond du Lac, told The Northwestern's Washington bureau reporter Larry Bivins. "They're taking jobs from Wisconsin and giving them to other states. That's why I voted against it."

The reauthorization of the federal transportation bill is always a massive political circus because billions of dollars in federal highway dollars are at stake. Among other flaws in the House version of the bill is that it returns Wisconsin to a donor status, where federal gas tax dollars generated here are sent to other ones. There are good reasons why national priorities occasionally take precedent over state ones, but for years Wisconsin sent more federal fuel tax revenues out of state than were returned, something noted by Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

For more than a decade, Wisconsin only received 70 percent of the money it contributed to the trust fund that pays for roads, bridges and mass transit projects. As a result, the state's highways and bridges suffered along with commerce and citizens forced to drive on substandard roads.

More recent bills restored a measure of fairness to allow the state to begin to catch-up on projects. For example, in 2009 and 2010, the state saw 103 percent and 105 percent returns on the dollar. The House legislation would reduce funding for Wisconsin over the smaller amount it received last year, some $62.6 million less for fiscal year 2013, and make it one of five states that would not seen an increase in annual funding for 2013-2016.

Seventeen other states would gain from Wisconsin's loss with highway fund increases of more than 20 percent and give others with more than 30 percent increases, according to Bivins' report. A better bill would even out the amount of revenue from fuel taxes returned to states and avoids wide swings that make sustainable planning and projects impossible.

Petri, the senior Republican leader on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was the lone Republican to vote against the bill earlier this month, putting him at risk for irking his party's leadership. The political veteran, no doubt, understood that it's better to anger powerful members of Congress than your constituents back home by supporting a bill so-stacked against their state.

The Final Thought: House transportation bill bad for Wisconsin.


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