Let’s Ensure Transportation Finance Can Be a Two-Way Street
An efficient transportation network can’t exist entirely of one-way streets. It needs to be adaptable, with multiple modes of transportation and some areas where traffic flows in different directions. Likewise, the financing for a good transportation network needs flexibility, and it shouldn’t invariably be restricted to one-way flows of revenue.
Next week Wisconsin voters will cast ballots on a proposed constitutional amendment that we think would be too restrictive. Although it would allow state lawmakers to continue to make transfers between many state funds, such as supplementing the Transportation Fund with money from the state’s General Fund, it would prohibit ever moving Transportation Fund revenue in the opposite direction. That would create a double standard for Wisconsin revenue transfers. It would be a mistake to lock an inflexible policy for state budgeting into the Wisconsin Constitution, as this editorial explains.
Some who favor a constitutional amendment point to past transfers that reduced resources for transportation programs. But over the last twelve years, far more has been transferred into the Transportation Fund than has been transferred away from it.
Since the 2003-05 budget period, when the first major transfers occurred, the net gain to the Transportation Fund has been $314 million. This amount includes transfers between the General Fund and the Transportation Fund as well as the cost of General Fund-supported bonds issued for transportation purposes.
In the 2003-05, 2005-07, and 2007-09 budget periods, there was a net loss from the Transportation Fund. That flow of revenue was reversed in the 2009-11, 2011-13, and 2013-15 budget periods, when lawmakers devoted increasingly large amounts of General Fund resources to transportation.
Let’s keep in mind that circumstances change in unexpected ways, and the state often finds that it needs to move money from one pot of funding to another. The proposed constitutional amendment would put one state fund, and only one fund, permanently off limits – elevating transportation spending above all other purposes, regardless of the circumstances. That would unnecessarily restrict the options of future elected officials.
As the WISC-TV editorial said: “Roads will get their due, as they should. But we need not enshrine that fact in the state constitution.”