A group of Republican legislators are circulating a bill that would impose reforms on the Department of Transportation including repealing prevailing wage laws and possibly reducing the number of engineers and staff. The DOT secretary met with local business leaders at the La Crosse Chamber of Commerce Friday morning for discussion.
With a billion dollars to make up in transportation, the message from Secretary Dave Ross was clear: Finish what we have started first.
"We need to invest the dollars into the projects that are going, get them done and then we can move on to other major or mega road projects here in the state," said Ross.
The 'mega projects' he was referring to are what he blames for the current shortfall, saying we have taken on too many large projects at once.
"This is why I say it's a spending problem and not a revenue problem. It's like remodeling the bathroom, the kitchen and the rec room all at the same time when you could have done them one at a time."
Finding efficiencies in the DOT like staff reductions and using private contractors for some projects is a reform he fully supports.
"We really strongly believe that we need to move a lot of aspects of local road projects and DOT operations outside and get them back into the local communities."
Some local officials seemed to echo that sentiment and supported a shift towards more local assistance funding and control.
"I know here locally we're looking at utilizing some of our reserve funds and some other pots of money to try to get caught up because I think everybody recognizes that we're far behind and that we need some action to get back to where things should be," said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.
But to get there, Ross says the missing budget is a major concern.
"We have to start thinking about how are we going to attract additional federal funds to the state. We need matching dollars to do that and we need a budget to do that."
As far as his stance on repealing prevailing wage laws, Ross did not comment, saying he will leave that up to the legislature. However, he did seem to be in favor of most of the proposed reforms with exception to the idea of appointing an attorney general position in the DOT saying that we need to be careful about micromanaging state agencies.
The GOP's proposed reforms came following an audit that showed the DOT underestimated 16 major projects by approximately $3 billion in total.