Legislators talked about toll roads as a solution for transportation funding at a Wisconsin Counties Association event. WisconsinEye's Steve Walters and WisPolitics.com's JR Ross discussed the in issue. WisconsinEye
MADISON - President Donald Trump touted bringing Foxconn Technology Group to Wisconsin as he rolled out his infrastructure plan Monday, but his proposal may leave state Republicans as split as ever when it comes to road funding.
The plan Trump unveiled Monday would put $1.5 trillion toward infrastructure over the next decade, but just $200 billion of it would come from the federal government. States, local governments and the private sector would need to come up with the remaining $1.3 trillion.
GOP Gov. Scott Walker in recent weeks has noted he would like Congress to adopt a plan that would follow more traditional lines, with the federal government funding 80% of projects and states picking up the remaining 20%.
Walker joined state officials from around the country when Trump made his plans public Monday, and the president gave a nod to Walker — and Foxconn.
"Nobody knows better than you people where you want the money invested," Trump said. "That’s the other thing, (for) the federal government to say, ‘Gee, this is what we want you to do in Wisconsin, Scott' — you know exactly where you want to do it, and you’ve done a great job by the way, but you know exactly where that money is going.
"And how is your new company that’s opening up there doing, by the way? Are they doing OK? That was a big one — Foxconn. That’s moving along, right?"
Trump promoted his role in landing Foxconn and said Walker "did a fantastic job of presentation" without mentioning that Walker negotiated the deal with the Taiwanese tech giant. Under the incentive package, the Taiwanese company will receive up to $3 billion in state taxpayer funds in exchange for building a plant that would employ up to 13,000 people.
At another stage, Trump said of Foxconn, "I hate to say it, if I didn’t get elected, they wouldn’t be in this country."
Half the $200 billion in Trump's infrastructure plan would go to grants for transportation, water, flood control, cleanup at some of the country’s most polluted sites and other projects.
States, local governments and other project sponsors could use the grants — which administration officials view as incentives — for no more than 20% of the cost.
About $50 billion would go toward rural projects — transportation, broadband, water, waste, power, flood management and ports. That is intended to address criticism from some Republican U.S. senators that the administration’s initial emphasis on public-private partnerships would do little to help rural, GOP-leaning states.
Another $20 billion would be used for what the administration dubs “transformative” projects, according to the Washington Post. The final $30 billion would expand loan programs, according to the Post.
Trump’s plan would also speed up the permitting process for building projects, which is expected to spark opposition from environmental groups.
The infrastructure plan’s path through a polarized Congress isn’t clear. Congress has just dealt with two federal government shutdowns and is turning its attention to immigration.
If it does get through, it is unclear how Republicans who control Wisconsin’s Capitol would react to it. They hope to secure more federal funds for projects, but many of them have resisted raising the state gas tax or finding other new money for roads — a key ingredient to secure some of the money Trump is offering.
Last week, state legislative leaders said they backed introducing tolling in Wisconsin, but Walker was largely cool to the idea. Tolling interstate highways would require federal approval and Walker said he didn’t plan to talk to federal officials about that idea during his trip to Washington.
Trump rolled out his plan as Walker's administration sought a $246.2 million federal grant through an existing program to pay for about half the remaining cost of a widening of I-94 south of Milwaukee.
The freeway project took on added urgency after Foxconn announced plans last year to build a complex in Racine County to manufacture liquid crystal display panels.
Wisconsin is seeking one-sixth of $1.5 billion available through that grant program, known as the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA.
On Friday, Walker said in Milwaukee that he has spoke directly to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Reed Cornish, an assistant to Trump, on the viability of the state's request.
In Gov. Scott Walker's "state of the state" address, he spoke about increasing funds for state transportation. WisconsinEye
Both officials "have been pretty optimistic about where we are headed on that," said Walker.
Walker said the state needs a response from the federal government on funding for I-94 this spring.
Martha Laning, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said in a statement that Walker and other Republicans had let Wisconsin's roads crumble during their seven years in power.
“Wisconsinites deserve better than Walker’s desperate, election-year stunts," Laning said in her statement. "We need long-term infrastructure solutions and it’s clear that Scott Walker has none to offer.”
Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.