A new proposal in the state Legislature would eliminate a step in Department of Transportation engineering, a move that critics of the proposal said could cost taxpayers more money.
Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, wants to get rid of required cost-benefit analysis forms the DOT has to fill out on nearly every engineering project. The forms show the estimated difference between the cost of state engineers and private contractors. Honadel wants to have the DOT only do a year-end report on that comparison.
A WISC-TV investigation last year found the DOT spending millions more for outside consultants instead of state engineers, based on these forms.
Honadel said he wants to eliminate the paperwork, following up on the Governor's Waste, Fraud and Abuse Commission report that found faults with the state's cost-benefit analysis reporting.
"The commission discovered that these reports are time consuming, costly, have a questionable value, and significant DOT staff time is dedicated to producing between 200 and 400 reports a year," said Honadel at an Assembly Transportation Committee hearing Tuesday.
DOT officials said they are supportive of the proposal, saying the forms now only provide them with an "educated guess" of costs.
"The goal of this process that we have in the bill is to get us to a point where we have corporate numbers across a variety of projects over the course of the year that we can use to help guide us and make decisions," said Steve Krieser, executive assistant at the Department of Transportation.
But the State Engineering Association is strongly in opposition of the proposal, saying it isn't addressing the issue with contractor vs. employee work.
"One of the weaknesses (with this proposal) is that point in time (when the year-end report is issued), the money is already out the door," said Willie Haus, attorney for SEA.
Haus said the bill weakens transparency.
"Why would you want to document decisions that you made, that cost the taxpayer extra money?" said Haus of DOT officials. "You don't want to document that, particularly if you aren't interested in changing the decisions to achieve more cost-effectiveness."
Many state Democrats also agreed that the bill weakens public oversight.
"To throw out the data because we don't like the conclusion that we're not doing something efficiently is really a disservice to the taxpayers," said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.
But Honadel and the DOT said this is a fix to an analysis process that isn't working.
Krieser said Tuesday that the DOT could do a year-end report now, without the bill, but it is the project-by-project cost benefit forms the DOT finds issue with, saying the amounts listed are only "an educated guess."
WISC-TV's May investigation found the cost-benefit analysis forms showed that the state spent nearly $14 million more on projects because it didn't have enough state engineers to do the work.
The bill will need a vote in the Assembly Transportation Committee, and it needs a hearing and a vote in the Senate committee, which is yet to be scheduled.