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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Abraham Bucks Chamber, Dissents on Hwy 34 Funding

Madison City Commissioner Nick Abraham shows a welcome glimmer of willingness to stand up to Madison's big money interests: at Monday's commission meeting, he cast the lone dissenting vote on a proposal to spend $125K of city tax dollars on widening Highway 34 east of town. No, Abraham didn't rebel against the Highway 34 Four for the Future campaign—that would probably get him run out of town. No, James River Equipment, one of the current industry darlings of the Chamber/LAIC crowd, is building a turning lane outside its new lot in the industrial park southeast of Madison. As if $190K in federal earmarks for curb and gutter isn't enough pork, James River asked the city for $125K to pay for the turning lane.

Note that this turning lane is on the portion of 34 east of town that already is a divided four lane. But I guess folks are in such a rush to get out of town that we just can't expect them to slow down a touch near the JRE entrance or take a moment to swing over into the left lane. Once again, Madison's Republicans choose big government spending over personal responsibility.

But not Commissioner Abraham:

Commissioner Nick Abraham pointed out that the new turn lane is located outside the Madison city limits, and the city has no direct responsibility toward paying for the project. Abraham added that the city won't have the $125,000 used for the turn lane project available for street construction projects within Madison. He said the reduced availability of stimulus funding could delay city street improvements [Chuck Clement, "City to Fund SD-34 Turn Lane," Madison Daily Leader, 2009.07.28].

What? Did someone say stimulus money?

The commissioners asked Chad Comes, city engineer, if the money needed for building the new turn lane could come from federal stimulus funding that Madison received earlier this year. The stipulations for receiving the federal economic stimulus money included directives to use the funding for construction projects that were active and "shovel-ready," not just under consideration.

Comes told the commissioner that transportation officials will probably perform the necessary financial transfers that would direct the $125,000 needed for the turn lane construction from Madison's stimulus funds [emphasis mine; Clement, 2009.07.28].

Necessary financial transfers—a.k.a., bookeeping tricks that would essentially allow us to cheat the stimulus rules. Clever.

James River Equipment's move a mile up the road for more visibility is costing us a lot of tax dollars. Given that JRE sits outside city limits, the city won't even get to recoup its investment in increased sales tax revenue.* Commissioner Abraham is to be commended for saying that, on this issue, the good capitalists at JRE should get their hand out of the public pocket and pay their own way.

*Correction! Elisa Sand sends me looking for a map, where I find JRE does appear to lie within the city limits. Looks like that turning lane could pay itself off... if James River can sell 6.25 million dollars worth of additional John Deere tractors and lawn mowers!
Additional Reading:


  1. Seems like the turn lane was necessary rather than optional. James River had already been given a lot of incentives. MDL said Abraham didn't vote for it because it was out of town. If the city isn't getting any tax revenue he made the right decision.

  2. [Roving MDL reporter Elisa Sand sends this useful note]:

    "James River's new facility was approved by the DOT with the stipulation that a turning lane be installed. This stipulation was made because James River was asking for two separate accesses to their facility, Initially opposed to the second access, the DOT approved it when Russ Olson suggested the addition of the turning lane on the highway (which will benefit not only James River but other businesses along that stretch).

    I question Nick's comment that the turning lane is outside the city limits and therefore not the city's problem, because James River is within the city limits and will have a direct benefit to the city, so, in a sense the city
    does have an obligation because it affects a business that is within the city limits.

    Also, the stimulus funding awarded earlier to the city and the county went into the city and county's respective STIP funds that is managed by the state. That STIP fund gets added to each year. The question is, can the city access STIP funds for this project? The county's biggest gripe about the
    stimulus funding going to the STIP fund is that A) funding wasn't
    immediately accessible for highway projects and B) it wouldn't be available for a specific project until it went through a two-year environmental study.

    Did this addition of this access go through that two-year study or require that study? Why couldn't the state have used its stimulus money to build the access? And (best of all) why can't the LAIC spend some of it's squirreled away, just sitting there accumulating interest, Forward Madison money on this project?

    Just wondering....


  3. Interesting point on the city limits. This map from DOT shows the city limits boundary on 34, reaching out to include the Dwaine Chapel Plaza. Could Abraham have been saying that the lane itself is outside the coundary, while JRE is inside it?


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