The Joint Finance Committee approved Wednesday $350 million in state borrowing over the next two years in an effort to combat delays on road construction throughout the state.
The committee’s four Democrats joined Assembly Republicans in voting for the bonding limit, arguing that the tough decision is necessary to improve transportation infrastructure.
“We’ve made some very difficult decisions, things that I think have put us in the right spot,” said committee co-chair state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette. “We admit this is one that we still have to tackle. We have to come up with a solution here.”
Democrats initially said Gov. Scott Walker should instead raise the state’s gas tax to pay for the construction, but eventually supported the measure.
“The man has to lead. He can't just borrow and then leave town," said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. "We need to raise the gas tax. We need to do something other than what we're doing today."
The six Senate Republicans opposed the bonding level, saying it would further hinder the state’s financial situation.
“What we're saying right now is this is a very tough budget for us but we're not going to kick the can down the road," said committee co-chair state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.
Road funding was a contentious issue in the state’s most recent budget. A compromise hammered out in July removed most borrowing for infrastructure projects from the budget, but lawmakers revisited the issue after the state Department of Transportation announced two-year delays for five projects.
Walker called on the committee to borrow $200 million to partially fund the projects but Nygren announced yesterday that he had the votes to fully fund the construction, which includes work on Verona Road in Dane County and improvements to Interstate 39/90 from Illinois to Madison.
The committee also approved a controversial bill that would change the state’s civil service system, signing off on the $6 million in merit pay contained in the measure.
Other measures passed include more money to fund the prosecution of gun-related crimes in Milwaukee and an expansion of long-term care programs in Rock County.