Conservatives Introduce DOT Reform Legislation

The debate over Wisconsin’s state transportation spending took a new turn on Thursday when a number of legislative Republicans introduced a “Department of Transportation Reform Package” they hope will change the way the state agency operates.

The proposed legislation, introduced by state Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) and state Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), is the first package to take ideas suggested in the audit and make them into law. Since the release of an audit earlier this year, funding levels for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT or DOT) have been under an increased level of scrutiny.

In addition to these proposals, the legislation includes a full repeal of the state’s prevailing wage as well as continued audits of the DOT’s operations over the years to come done by an inspector general appointed by the Legislative Audit Bureau.

The audit released earlier this year confirmed that our DOT suffers from years of mismanagement. Rep. Sanfelippo said, “This bill will restore taxpayer confidence in an agency that has strayed from the sound fiscal and good-government principles we expect.”

“After demonstrating a poor use of taxpayer dollars, substantial reform is essential at the DOT,” said Sen. Kapenga. “These reforms have been proven around the country to save significant money and deliver projects in a more efficient and effective manner. It is part of what is needed to help get the agency back on track.”

The bill introduces a design-build-finance model which is a common delivery method employed by other states to realize significant reductions in construction costs and completion times on road projects. The bill also contains structural reforms to the DOT and related agencies including: repeal of prevailing wage, “fed swap,” referendum requirements for roundabouts and local wheel tax, and an outside audit of DOT operations.

Where the legislation goes from here is anyone’s guess. According to the bill’s authors, they already have 18 co-sponsors from the state assembly and six co-sponsors from the state senate. Such numbers won’t be enough to ensure immediate passage on the floors of each chamber, but they would be large enough to have a sway with the on-going negotiations over transportation spending within the stalled state budget.

Wisconsin’s most recent fiscal year began on July 1, 2017. Without a finalized state budget, Wisconsin state government continues to operate, but at appropriation levels set by the previously passed fiscal package.