Lawmakers react to DOT reform legislation

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation office in Ashwaubenon is seen, March 20, 2017. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- The state transportation department would have to make some changes under a new proposal in Madison.

The bill is in response to an audit that showed the DOT was underestimating the cost of highway projects by millions of dollars.

As the state's budget writing committee looks to address a nearly $1 billion short-fall to the transportation budget, Republican state lawmakers are working to make sure the DOT properly manages money.

"When you have an audit that reveals a number of deficiency, it's kind of crisis of confidence that occurs with legislatures," explained State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere.

In January, a state audit showed 19 projects completed between 2006 and 2015 cost $1.5 billion almost twice what was originally estimated.

"There are certain checks and balances that we want in place to make sure that the same problem we had in the past isn't going to be happening again," said Jacque. "What I see this doing is really helping in a very positive way to deal with some of our transportation fund issues."

Under the proposal, the state's prevailing wage laws would be eliminated. Prevailing wage sets minimum wages for workers on public construction projects.

The proposal would also allow the DOT to let single contractors complete all phases of a project, but would prohibit a contractor from doing work that exceeds the original cost of the project.

Democrats speaking out against the bill take issue with the repealing of prevailing wage laws.

In a statement, Democratic State Sen. Jennifer Shilling said:

“Once again, Republicans are proposing massive worker pay cuts, project delays and costly borrowing rather than a responsible, long-term solution to Gov. Walker’s transportation funding crisis. It’s like listening to a broken record. We have the third worst roads in the country. Outsourcing jobs and paying workers less isn’t going to fill our potholes any quicker. Instead of maxing out the state’s credit card, we need a real plan that invests in infrastructure, protects Wisconsin jobs and improves the safety of our local roads.”

Republican State Senator Robert Cowles, who is on the state's audit committee said in a statement:

“We are reviewing the proposal. Regardless, a higher standard of accountability needs to be added to our state highway program to avoid future scenarios that were found in the State Highway Program Audit."

In an email, a spokesperson for the DOT said "Shortly after his appointment, Secretary Ross directed WisDOT staff to review and reprioritize all projects, streamline processes and find more efficiencies. This process is well underway. As he has stated multiple times, Secretary Ross welcomes all ideas to make WisDOT more efficient and accountable."

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