Report: GOP plan on roads would cut 180 state engineers

Engineering shortage has cost taxpayers in past
Report: GOP plan on roads would cut 180 state engineers

State engineering jobs could be cut under the latest Republican plan to pay for roads in Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports part of a new highway plan being put together by Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, would cut 180 Wisconsin Department of Transportaion engineers. The move could create or worsen an issue that News 3 has covered at the DOT back to 2011, where taxpayers pay more money for private engineers to do projects because there are not enough state engineers to do the work.

News 3 investigated the spending on construction projects across the state in 2011 and again in 2013. Both times, cost-benefit analysis forms filled out by the DOT showed that taxpayers were paying tens of millions of dollars more for road projects designed by private engineers because there weren’t enough state engineers to do the work.

“The issue has always been that it’s way more cost-effective to do the work internally instead of outsource it and hire consultants but we’ve always been battling that misconception,” said Tim Hanley, president of the State Engineering Association.

Hanley says he was surprised to hear that Kooyenga’s plan may eliminate those 180 engineering positions at the state level, in part because they were specifically requested by the DOT secretary to help mitigate the problem and were approved by the legislature in the 2013 state budget.

“Things just don’t make sense when you look at the dollars involved and how staffing decisions are made,” Hanley said.

A recent audit of the DOT found that only 33 percent of the work is done now by state employees, but that’s up from 24 percent before the positions were added. It also said that based on those cost-benefit analysis forms, some 164 projects may have been completed for $14 million less if state engineers were used.

We asked the chair of the transportation committee in the Senate, Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, whether he’d want to see the legislature cut those jobs and he said not yet.

“I think there were a lot of retirements and a lot of people that left state services so [the 180 positions] were to make up for those and that was the goal of Sec. Gottlieb and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind as of yet,” Petrowski said.

The association representing private engineers would not comment to News 3 on this proposal Wednesday. In the past they’ve disputed numbers saying their costs are higher.

Kooyenga would not confirm this proposal was included in the plan he intends to announce Thursday.