Transportation amendment on ballot in November

Amendment: Money in transportation fund only goes to transportation systems
Transportation amendment on ballot in November

Along with races for governor and attorney general, there is another statewide issue on the ballot in November.

The measure voters will see is an amendment to the state constitution, saying the state can only spend money in the transportation fund on transportation systems and prohibits transfers out of the fund.

A bill to this effect has passed two consecutive legislatures and now goes to the ballot for a vote.

Supporters said this will prevent transfers out of the fund, which happened during four previous budgets. The Doyle administration shifted $1.4 billion over that time to the general fund, saying it was needed to pay for schools and other priorities.

“We’re just saying that if we’re telling the public we’re raising the money for a certain purpose we should in fact spend it for that purpose,” said Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association and treasurer of the group “Vote Yes for Transportation.”

Thompson said the transfer of funds over time led to further budget and debt issues.

“It broke people’s trust that user fees were going for what they’re supposed to,” Thompson said. “We ended up replacing that with bonding, which we continue to pay in this budget and budgets to come.”

Those against the measure believe that the state shouldn’t lock up just one pot of money.

Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, voted against the amendment in the legislature last year.

“While it makes good sense, it’s not good governing,” Berceau said. “It’s more about politics. No business or family would budget that way and say there’s something we can’t touch no matter what the emergency is.”

Berceau said no other parts of the budget have ever been called untouchable, and she thinks the amendment is a bad precedent.

“I just don’t see that our constitution is the place to guarantee money,” Berceau said. “Maybe guaranteeing rights or that we’re going to spend money on certain things. But guaranteeing a funding source? That’s a budget item.”

The idea may be one of the few that both candidates for governor can agree on.

“It’s an issue that hopefully won’t happen again in the future because on this fall’s ballot there’s a constitutional amendment that would prohibit those sorts of raids,” Gov. Scott Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board on Tuesday.

“I do support the amendment, I see no problem with doing that,” Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke said Thursday before an event in Madison. “I thought it was wrong that transportation funds were used for other purposes in the Doyle Administration.”

When asked whether she expressed concern about it while she was the secretary of commerce, Burke said no.

“We didn’t deal with issues with regard to the transportation fund,” Burke said.

While there hasn’t been a vocal opposition to this measure, Berceau was one of 13 members of the assembly and eight in the senate to vote against the amendment..

This week a coalition of construction and road building groups has put billboards up in the city encouraging a “yes” vote.