Capitol Week-In-Review – March 2, 2017

Lawmakers Propose Management Changes to Highway Program

Recently, the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) published its evaluation of the management of the State Highway Program by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT).  Of note, the LAB found:

  • When a major highway project is considered for approval, the DOT provides the Governor and the Legislature with an estimate of total project costs, but such estimates were incomplete, in part, because they did not take into account that inflation would increase project expenditures over time; and
  • The DOT budgeted to complete more major highway project work than could be completed with its available funding because it did not sufficiently take into account the extent to which project expenditures increased over time as a result of inflation and unexpected cost increases.

Last Tuesday, the legislature’s Joint Audit Committee introduced legislation to address these management deficiencies. Their proposal requires the DOT to:

  • Provide state lawmakers with cost estimates that include all costs associated with potential major highway projects, including the effects of inflation; and
  • Regularly report information to state lawmakers about the ongoing costs of each major highway project and to report this information about each major highway project:

We support this bipartisan legislation and will be asking state lawmakers to enact these programmatic reforms.

Lawmakers Introduce Rural Broadband Expansion Legislation

State Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and State Representative Romaine Quinn (R-Rice Lake) have introduced a rural broadband expansion legislation that combines elements of Governor Walker’s budget plan and the recommendations made by the 2016 Legislative Council Study Committee on Rural Broadband.

According to Senator Marklein, this bill:

  • Allocates an additional $15.5 million for Broadband Expansion (BEX) grants;
  • Provides the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) with a requirement that BEX grants go to areas of the state with the greatest need. In other words — “fill from the bottom up;”
  • Includes a policy that prevents broadband service providers from “cherry picking” high value customers, while ignoring the needs of residential customers.
  • Directs the PSC, in evaluating BEX grant proposals, to consider the impact of improved broadband on our students at home, and patients at home; and
  • Discourages the duplication of existing broadband service.

We are backing the Marklein-Quinn proposal and will be lobbying state lawmakers to enact this legislation.

Wisconsin’s Public Sector Workforce

Analysis of recently-released state and local government employment figures collected by the United States Census Bureau show that the State of Wisconsin had 49.6 government employees per 1,000 residents in 2015 – 2.1% less than the national average.

State and local governments in Wisconsin spent 6.3% less than the national average on public payrolls and the public payroll per employee was 4.2% below the national average.

Wisconsin’s public sector employed 286,000 full-time employees in 2015 of which 74% worked at the local level. Six out of ten government employees work in education, mostly in K-12 schools.