Sen. Ron Johnson at iMET

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks Thursday to the Racine Area Manufactures and Commerce and the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce about what has been going on in Washington. Johnson was at Gateway Technical College's iMET Center in Sturtevant. 

STURTEVANT — Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian is frustrated with the street conditions in his city and even more frustrated with a perceived lack of options to repair them.

At an event with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on Thursday, Antaramian said the state and federal government have “failed on the issue of infrastructure,” adding that municipalities are having a difficult time fixing the roads they have.

“In Kenosha we’re probably looking at over $33 million in maintenance that needs to be done,” Antaramian said. “The state government and the federal government have both failed, they have not lifted a finger and not done almost anything at all because they don’t want to raise taxes when comes to infrastructure.”

Johnson was at Gateway Technical College’s iMET Center in Sturtevant to speak to the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce about what has been going on in Washington.

Antaramian asked Johnson about what his solution would be and Johnson gave a response about how the powers of local government have shifted.

“We devolved power away from what our founders thought made the most sense, govern close to the governed at the local level,” Johnson said. “And it’s devolved into the state and up to the federal government.”

Johnson said in that shift of taxing powers, the federal government has screwed up, and his “long-term solution” would be devolving the power away from the federal government along with some taxing authority.

“But that doesn’t work,” Antaramian responded, adding the state is not assisting the state’s fourth-largest city’s attempts to fix its roads.

Johnson said there is a better chance of changing laws at the state level then at the federal level.

“By the way, when it comes to infrastructure, what makes the most sense to me is user fees,” Johnson said.

Finding a solution

Antaramian said that at present, there is one party that controls both the state and federal government, and the infrastructure problem continues to linger.

“One party should have the ability to make that happen, but they won’t,” Antaramian said. “Everyone knows it’s a problem and they keep saying ‘local government you take care of it.’ That’s fine, I’ll fix it. But then give me the ability to fix it. And they won’t. Why aren’t the Republicans in Congress and the Senate right now fixing the issue?”

Johnson responded, “for the exact same reason why when the Democrats are in charge, they won’t do it either.”

“The only way it happens is you have to have a president run on this issue, say he’s going to do it, and then actually get elected,” Johnson said. “I’m just giving you the political realities. Do you think a president would win an election if he said ‘I’m going to increase the gas tax?’ ”

Johnson said people in construction and state government would be in support of such a candidate “but the rest of people wouldn’t.”

Antaramian replied that he believes if the right candidate came along there could be a chance the public could be convinced infrastructure is something worth paying for.

“Infrastructure is, as far as businesses go, the lifeblood,” Antaramian said. “And if this continues to deteriorate, it’s going to be the business community that ends up being screwed.”

Johnson agreed that infrastructure is key to helping maintain the health of businesses, and if public officials wanted to fix it “it would really have to be quiet.”

“You’re never going to be able to run on the platform, but once you get into office, whether it’s governor or president, you have to bring people together in good will and say ‘OK, can we all jump off this cliff together?’” Johnson said. “And it doesn’t look like we’re even close to that.”

Afterward the event, Antaramian did not sound pleased with the answer he received from Johnson.

“From his perspective it is a philosophy of how a government should function, and I respect that, everyone has that right,” Antaramian said. “My problem is I want to see something done and I have a deal of infrastructure that the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers are responsible for and they’re not going to do because there’s no funding for those projects.”

Antaramian said he hopes Johnson heard and understood his concerns.

“No one wants to bite the bullet and do what they need to do, nor give local government the ability to fund these projects also,” Antaramian said. “It’s a problem that everyone wants to ignore and it can’t be ignored.”

“Infrastructure is, as far as businesses go, the lifeblood. And if this continues to deteriorate, it’s going to be the business community that ends up being screwed.” Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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