The weighty dilemma of how to pay for Wisconsin's roads and bridges has a simple solution: spend less, new state Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross told lawmakers Thursday.
The testimony came in a hearing with the state Senate Transportation Committee. The committee later voted on party lines, 3-2, with Democrats dissenting, to forward Ross' nomination as DOT secretary to a vote in the full Senate.
Ross said the state's transportation funding woes stem in part from past decisions to move forward with too many large highway projects at once. Those decisions likely were linked to findings of a recent state audit of the department, which showed it drastically underestimated the cost of large highway projects over a period of decades.
"It's a spending problem, not a revenue problem," Ross said.
That contradicts legislative Democrats and some Republicans who say the state needs more revenue for transportation, likely through a gas tax or vehicle registration fee increase. They say a growing backlog of highway projects and mounting transportation debt mean that an infusion of revenue must be part of the solution.
But Ross' stance matches Gov. Scott Walker's position of holding the line on taxes and fees in the next state budget. In December, Walker named Ross, a former Superior mayor, to succeed former DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb.