3/26/2017, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram – Few of us want to increase our tax burden, but Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure is in need of our support.

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 proposed budget, according to a Wisconsin Public Radio story, “would increase local road aid, it would delay some state projects and borrow roughly $500 million to close out a roughly $1 billion deficit.”

During a visit to Eau Claire, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said the proposed transportation budget features a “low level of bonding” and added that “they didn’t elect us to raise taxes.” That may be true, but the plan does not provide a long-term, sustainable solution for transportation needs.

“I would not be surprised if they kind of start over,” said Craig Thompson, Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin executive director, who described transportation funding in the budget as “woefully inadequate” and less than what was allocated in the last biennium.

It’s time for our representatives to strongly consider increases in user taxes and fees to fund transportation needs.

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The woes of roads and bridges in this state are well documented. In rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Wisconsin was 49th in road quality as 42 percent of them (more than double the national average) were deemed in poor or mediocre condition in 2016.

“Transportation revenues have increased modestly in recent years, while the cost of state highway projects has grown from original estimates,” reads a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance news release. “State road aids to local governments have increased little over the past decade, leading to a decline in local road quality.

“The governor’s proposed budget addresses some of these issues but not others. He requests no increases in major taxes and fees.”

That’s a mistake. Neither the gas tax in Wisconsin nor vehicle registration fees have kept up with inflation.

The public is mixed on the issue, but only 3 percent of respondents to a Marquette University Law School poll released last week favored more borrowing for transportation, a significant component of Walker’s proposed budget.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau found the state was spending 18.2 cents of every dollar of transportation revenue to pay off old borrowing, reads a WPR story, which likely will “grow even higher in the next budget.”

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According to a 2014 Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report, “Filling Potholes: A New Look at Funding Local Transportation in Wisconsin,” the average annual growth of gas taxes and vehicle registration fees averaged just 0.3 percent over the previous five years.

“Changing driving patterns and rising fuel efficiency makes future prospects even more dim,” states the report, which said transportation funding could be short between $2 billion and $6 billion over the next decade. That’s particularly troubling in what the report calls a “transportation-dependent economy.”

“Manufacturing, farming and trucking claim a larger share of employment and wages here than in any other state, save Indiana,” it says. “In addition, good roads boost Wisconsin’s $11 billion tourist industry.”

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Other options include implementing toll roads and collecting sales tax from vehicles and automotive parts. However, the former would require clearing some legal hurdles, and the latter would take money away from the state’s general fund.

Thompson anticipates some changes in the transportation budget before the proposed measure becomes law.

“I think they’ll probably come up with more money to throw at it,” he said, “but my fear is it will be a one-time thing.”

That’s a concern for us as well.