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Dane County Wheel Tax Needed As State Fails To Address Transportation Funding

November 26, 2017

I am not shy about placing my money where my mouth is.  As such I am pleased with the overwhelming vote (27-6) from the Dane County Board of Supervisors to implement a tax that I have long favored.  In fact, I long desired the City of Madison to enact the same tax.

Last week the board voted into law a $28 vehicle registration fee–termed more generally as a ‘wheel tax’–on all vehicles kept in the county.  The tax is to be paid every time a vehicle is registered or its registration is renewed.  What has long garnered my support for this idea is the money collected from the wheel tax will go toward our local roads.

Every budget cycle in the State Capitol there is a pretense that the time has arrived for meaningful ideas and collective action to address the long-simmering problem of too few dollars to meet the transportation needs of the state.   But after editorial writers for state papers have opined, and local officials have weighed in to their state representatives, and average citizens registered their feelings the same creaking bridges, ever-growing potholes, and crumbling infrastructure remains.   Clearly the state legislature is now getting the job done!

So it falls on the shoulders of local units of government to act.

A wheel tax is certainly not a new idea, but it remains a good one.  There are many places across the state that have placed such a tax on the books, and for good reason.  With the lack of resolve from the Republican majority to realistically fund our transportation needs many counties in the state have taken action.   Dane County has now joined Chippewa, Iowa, Lincoln, Marathon, St. Croix, and Milwaukee Counties in moving forward by acknowledging that a shortage of transportation dollars is not in the best interests of state residents.

Over the recent years the partisan lines have only been more sharply drawn and perhaps no where is that more obvious than in the lack of ability to get transportation funding passed at the state level.   The fact that now it is politically risky to put forth an honest approach making it clear streets and roads must have more funding so they can be serviced adequately, underscores how far from a functional governing style we have fallen.  When I was a younger man transportation budgets were seemingly the one thing that most could agree on as everyone headed back to their districts able to demonstrate how their local communities would benefit.  That our current political climate does not allow that to happen should concern us all.

I reject the notion that we should never address the need for new taxes, and that is why I so heartily applaud the recent vote of our county board.  It is dreadful that the only time we talk about taxes is when someone proposes reducing them.  In spite of the partisan nature of almost everything these days I must have faith that most citizens in Dane County are smart enough to understand that essential government services must have funding sources that meet the need.

I have always entertained the various mixes of revenue to help fund our state’s transportation needs.  I sincerely applauded a report several years ago from the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission–a commission consisting of eight of the ten voting members being appointed by Republicans, including six named by Governor Walker.  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.  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”, and supported increased fees for registration and driver’s licenses.  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.

So when you hear or read from those who will doubtless be sniping at the supervisors who made the decision locally to find needed monies for road projects, also pay attention to what the detractors are not saying.  They are not proposing options or solutions for our cash-strapped infrastructure.

If new dollars are not found and conservatives continue to hold sway over the state budgeting process then the state’s infrastructure will continue to falter, and our economy will be placed in a further long-term pinch.  With the absence of common-sense under the statehouse dome we can, therefore, be thankful some local units of government still understand the need for thoughtful governing.

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