Wisconsin Needs To Increase Taxes And Fees For Transportation Needs
With a birthday looming on the horizon I have started to again think about getting older. Though I certainly do not feel my age some recent articles in the newspapers concerning Wisconsin’s transportation needs, and the means to fund them, do point to the fact I am aging. After all, I can recall when transportation budgets both out of Washington and Madison were strong bi-partisan measures where elected officials could talk with glee about the projects that were funded for their district. Everyone was a winner. The citizens had betters roads and bridges, unions had work, and the air of compromise among members of congress or legislature meant they had done something meaningful.
But as we have all seen in Wisconsin a level of dysfunctional government has taken hold when it comes to transportation needs. There is simply a lack of will power to push through the needed tax increases and fee adjustments so to allow the ever-growing number of needed transportation projects to get started or completed. The lack of leadership and resolve to deal with this matter has placed Wisconsin as the worst in the nation for the state of our roads.
It has been simply stunning to hear Governor Scott Walker reject additional revenue in the form of a gas tax or higher registration fees. He even dismissed the idea that counties could work at finding their own revenue streams. No need to have a fully functioning and up-to-snuff transportation system in Wisconsin since doing so would run counter to the most outdated and insane talking point since 1980. That is taxes are always supposed to go down, but never up.
There is a strong and widening consensus that our transportation needs must be placed at the top of the agenda, right along with educational funding, when the next legislature convenes. Instead of trying to create some new ideas or mix the pot and hope for a better outcome I would hope our elected officials look at what has already been produced.
Several years ago the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission released a report that showed where the tire meets the road in Wisconsin. The members were not a bunch of liberal, big-government types who loved a latte. No, the commission consisted of eight of the ten voting members appointed by Republicans, including six named by Governor Walker. But what they reported out of their working sessions was smart and even-handed.
They recommended some serious medicine for the state–and we need it! They minced no words when saying state citizens need to pay more in taxes and fees as revenue is required to meet our transportation needs. At the time of the report the commission found that over the next 10 years there is anywhere between a $2 billion and $17.1 billion funding gap for transportation infrastructure in this state. No can doubt this is true. No matter where we travel in the state or how we get there the lack of maintenance is most pronounced.
Therefore the commission urged an increase in the state motor fuel tax by 5 cents per gallon, voted for an adoption of a new “mileage-based registration fee”, supported increased fees for registration and driver’s licenses, while removing a sales tax exemption for trade-in vehicles. To the delight of folks such as myself they even allowed for the creation of regional transportation authorities with the power to collect sales taxes.
This is the type of real policy thinking that needs to come from Republican circles. And I have continuously applauded the group of thinkers who produced this report. The idea that there is never to be any new tax hikes or ways to reap revenue is a most absurd and untenable position from which to govern. Yet Walker and some others in his party seem unable to grasp why they are wrong, and the dreadful consequences of their decisions.
For far too long there has been a line of rhetoric from conservatives that cutting government is the only way to move a state (or a nation) forward. We have seen the limits, and pure folly of such a political argument both in Washington, and in Madison. With Walker now suggesting that any penny of new taxes for roads must be paid for with an equal cut in some other government program underscores that he only knows how to make for larger holes in our schools and social programs. But he has no idea of how to grow an economy or make jobs.
If the harsh ideological wing of the Republican Party continues to prevail, and no new means of increasing needed funds are made into law, then the state’s infrastructure will continue to falter, and our economy will be placed in a further long-term pinch.
I am hoping for a few mature and thoughtful Republicans to step forward and honestly address the need for more revenue for our state transportation needs. At the same time it will be very likely that Walker will try to pass the buck, duck, dodge, and weave on the topic as he tries to land his next job.