Wisconsin enacts revision on certain highway funding

January 9, 2019

Keith Goble


A new law in Wisconsin concentrates federal funds into fewer highway projects.

As one of his final acts as governor, Scott Walker signed into law a bill to provide for southeast Wisconsin “freeway megaprojects, major highway development projects, and certain state highway rehabilitation projects.”

The bill, SB883, was approved as part of a special session called to take advantage of the last weeks of the state’s trifecta status for Republicans at the capitol. Trifecta control is when one party controls the governor’s seat and both statehouse chambers.

Due to the Republican governor’s defeat in November to incoming Gov. Tony Evers, there will be no more GOP trifecta control in the state once the 2019 regular session begins on Jan. 7.

Specifically, the main portion of SB883 requires, for instances when federal money is used for the largest highway projects or state-highway rehabilitation with a price tag below $10 million, that at least 70 percent of the funding come from the federal government.

Critics said that requiring federal money to make up a larger part of highway work would result in fewer projects subject to federal rules. In effect, they add that the law is a way to avoid prevailing-wage requirements and other federal regulations.

Additionally, they said the change approved by Republican leaders will force the state to cover the cost of a greater number of projects.

Advocates said avoiding federal requirements will save the state money and enable more road work.

They add that the 70 percent threshold can be waived for particular projects with the permission of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

A separate provision in the new law shields local projects that receive no federal money from a requirement to comply with state regulations other than design standards.

GOP leaders said the regulations will simplify procedures for small, local projects that have been required to go through a time-consuming process of getting approval from the state. As a result, local officials will be able to act in their best interest.

Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, said the new law codifies existing state DOT practices with federal highway revenue.