Can we please put the “conserve” back in conservative?

Let’s be truthful about this: Wisconsin ain’t broke, but we sure do waste money. The idea that Wisconsin is broke is little more than chum tossed in the political waters by republicans in order to attract votes.  The phrase is taken from rules page in the Karl Rove Book of Vote Getting, which also recommends blaming illegal immigrants (for everything), opposing to same-sex marriage (while defending divorce), cutting programs that help people (and giving the money to corporations), ending transit “subsidies” (and giving the money to oil companies and car manufacturers), and cutting funding for bicycle programs (but there is so little money in that slice of the pie that nobody wants it). 

Rove’s book goes on to advise that even in an anti-tax political environment, votes can be gained when you supersize the budget for things that make people’s lives “easier” even if they are unhealthy and have an over-all negative return on investment. Want votes? Don’t give a penny to help people walk, bike or take transit, but spend billions to expand our highways so it is easier for those one or two hours a day when the roads are somewhat crowded with 80% empty vehicles, 50% of which are taking people on trips of two miles or less.

In an effort to put the “conserve” back in conservative, and in honor of yesterday’s vote in Madison to eliminate all state funding for bicycles, pedestrians and kill a bunch of locally voted upon regional transit authorities, I am reposting what I wrote on March 3rd about my grandfather, who is probably rolling over in his grave right at the veterans cemetary right now.

My grandfather’s heroes were John Wayne, Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan, but I don’t think he would approve of Gov. Walkers transportation budget. All his life he walked or took transit to work. He didn’t do it because he was a liberal tree-hugger who cared about the environment. He did it for the same reasons he reused aluminum foil, because he was frugal. He lived close to work because taking transit or walking saved him money and didn’t waste gas. My grandfather lived through the depression and he despised waste of any kind.

Damn liberals ...

If you live in Wisconsin, you have undoubtedly already read in Tom Held’s blog or on the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin’s Facebook page that Governor Walker has eliminated $5 million in state funds for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and planning, actually about $2.5 million annually for 2 years. The money was part of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Program (BPFP), which was a relatively new program. Local governments with taxing authority and Indian Tribal Nations were eligible for BPFB funds. State agencies are not eligible for this program (this could be an important distinction politically).

He has also cut transit aide by $7 million and transferred funding for transit from the transportation budget to the general fund, essentially declaring transit a social program rather than a transportation program. My grandpa who worked more than 45 jobs since he was a small child hated welfare and would not have liked being told that riding the streetcar or bus was a social welfare program.

Who would ride a bike when you can drive a car?

Bike/Ped projects costing $200,000 or more that involve construction were eligible for BPFP funds, as were bicycle and pedestrian planning projects costing $50,000 or more. Additionally, the project must be usable when it is completed and not staged so that additional money is needed to make it a useful project. The project sponsor must pay for a project and then seek reimbursement for the project from the state. Federal funds will provide up to 80% of project costs, while the sponsor must provide at least the other 20%.

Funding for the BPFP program began in year two of the 2007‐09 state budget in the amount of $2.72 million federal funding per year. The 2009‐11 state biennial budget added $2.5 million in state funding per year to the federal funding. The majority of funding for bicycle projects comes from two purely federal programs: the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Program (CMAQ) and the Transportation Enhancements (TE) Program. In the last funding cycle, the TE program allocated $32.5 million to local governments around the state, while local governments in designated “non-attainment” areas in SE Wisconsin were awarded $37.5 million in CMAQ funds. CMAQ and TE grants are awarded in alternate years, and the BPFP funds were tied to the TE funding cycle.

Examples of local projects funded through these programs are the Hank Aaron State Trail, the Beerline Trail, and the bike lanes painted throughout Milwaukee. As you can see, a $5 million reduction in a total $75 million pot might sound to most to be a reasonable cut given these difficult economic times. But consider Walker’s budget calls for a total of $5.7 billion for transportation. Bicycling and walking make up 14% of all trips, so one could argue those modes are already WAY underfunded.

A fiscally conservative person might also reasonably argue that while bikes are nice, we have to fix our crumbling roads and bridges for all modes before we can afford nice extras like bike lanes, trails and sidewalks. But remember building roads is really expensive (around $50 million per mile for freeways), and Walker’s budget includes funds to expand our freeways, rather than just rebuild them. Take a drive down I94 south towards Chicago and you can see all the bridges are about twice as wide and the freeway is 50% wider. Why would a fiscally responsible person expand the extremely expensive interstate, increasing annual maintenance and operational costs by 50% when the demand does not warrant expansion? For years the traffic volumes have on our freeways have stayed about the same or even gone down.

The larger future maintenance costs of an expanded freeway and highway system are a legacy of greater higher taxes for our future generations. Our roads and bridges are crumbling because maintenance is already underfunded in favor of new construction. Besides seems pretty hypocritical given Walker said he turned down federal high-speed rail money because he claimed the demand didn’t warrant it and the legacy of future maintenance costs were something he did not want to pass on to Wisconsin’s tax payers?

The other reason a cut in bicycle spending is irresponsible in the face of expanded budgets for automobiles is that 50% of all trips made by car are less than 2 miles and 25% are less than one mile, a distance easily travelled by bicycle or on foot. Building and maintaining all those roads for such short trips seems very wasteful. We also have to provide parking spaces for all those cars making unnecessary trips. A true fiscal conservative would save the money and walk or bike.

Money down the drain?

We could save a lot of money rebuilding roads if we could cut the traffic volumes by 50% or 25%. Imagine it costs a lot less to rebuild a four lane road as a two lane road than it does to rebuild it as a four lane road again (or a six lane as Walker is doing). Maybe I’m just a cheap Milwaukee Pollack like my grandpa (I wash and reuse aluminum foil too), but I’d call cutting funding for bikes and transit while building bigger roads just plain wasteful.


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Advocacy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can we please put the “conserve” back in conservative?

  1. still rollin says:

    I am not sure if something organized or organic was going on, but the numbers of bikes on Canal Street and the Hank Aaron trail today was amazing. This is not really a trend anymore, it is a tipping point.

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