MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker and the state Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross say a highly critical audit of the agency's operations won't change their opposition to increasing gas taxes or vehicle fees.
The much anticipated Legislative Audit Bureau audit says the agency budgeted to complete more highway projects than could be done with the money available because it didn't take into account inflation and unexpected cost increases.
DOT Secretary Dave Ross wrote in a letter attached to the report that the agency has worked to improve cost projections over the last six years and the audit examined projects dating as far back as the 1980s. He added that estimating costs is always risky and other states, including Minnesota, have seen project cost overruns.
Ross took issue with findings that DOT doesn't comply with administrative rules and policies on public notification of future projects, saying the agency is in full compliance with state and federal notification requirements. Still, Ross says the agency will comply with the audit's recommendations.
The report also says the department could have done more to control engineering, construction and maintenance costs and it is not consistently using performance measures to improve its operations.
Sen. Rob Cowles is co-chairman of the Legislature's Audit Committee. He told WHBY that the audit "will be devastating to the management of DOT." He says, "They have to do this whole thing differently."
The report finds that estimated costs for 19 major projects completed between 2006 and 2016 were $1.5 billion. That is $772 million more than initially projected.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson says the audit shows more savings can be found at the department and that should be pursued before taxes go up. Ross says the audit "provides a roadmap to improved efficiency and transparency at the DOT."
The audit also finds that the estimated costs of 16 ongoing major highway projects have increased by $3.1 billion.
The report comes as the department faces a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall. Walker has insisted on solving that without raising taxes or fees, while Assembly Republicans have called for $300 million in increases offset by unnamed tax cuts elsewhere.
Walker's transportation secretary Mark Gottlieb resigned effective Jan. 6 as the audit was pending.
Democrats accuse Walker of failing on roads
Democrats are accusing Walker and Republicans of failing to address declining road conditions and problems. Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach calls the audit "shocking" and says "our infrastructure is falling apart before our eyes."
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca says neglect of roads under Republicans the past six years is inexcusable and unacceptable. He says "we are in a crisis state and we need to take immediate action."
Lawmaker calls DOT audit map for improvement
One of the leaders of the Legislature's audit committee is calling a highly critical audit of the state Department of Transportation a "roadmap for improvement."
Republican Rep. Samantha Kerkman co-chairs the Joint Audit Committee. She said in a news release Thursday that the potential savings were significant and a missed opportunity. She says the audit is a roadmap for improvement and DOT must prioritize giving taxpayers the biggest bang for their transportation dollars.
Republican leaders call reporter disconcerting, say state is trying to do too much with few funds
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the report is disconcerting but he is confident DOT will take immediate steps to improve.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says the audit shows that "Wisconsin is trying to do too much with too little and taxpayers are not getting their money's worth." He's advocating for increasing transportation-related taxes and fees by $300 million, with corresponding tax cuts elsewhere, to pay for roads.
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