8/8/2016, The Rice Lake Chronotype – Like deer-crossing signs on rural roads, reminders that the state is facing a transportation shortfall have been numerous for the past several years. Last budget cycle, Gov. Scott Walker pushed through $350 million in borrowing to close a deficit. This time, the projected shortfall is $939 million.

More borrowing will only increase the burden on the future state officials that have to deal with that debt. An alternative proposed last budget cycle, and again in this one is an increase to the state’s gas tax.

Legislators of both parties as well as Department of Transportation officials have supported such a measure. Assembly majority leader John Nygren said, “All options need to be on the table.” Further: “It’s not necessarily the fiscally conservative position to simply say no and to continue to delay projects and to delay growth of our system and capacity in our transportation system,” Nygren said.

It’s not just about fixing cracks and potholes, transportation projects also make roads safer. An interchange at the intersection of Hwys. V and 53 removed an intersection notorious for fatalities. How many deaths could be prevented on Hwy. 8 if it received a new configuration?

Granted, gas taxes do place burdens on many drivers, especially those of lower income. But if there is a time to raise a tax, it is now when gas prices are relatively affordable. But Walker is again adamant about not raising taxes of any kind—except for increased fees for state park and bike trail passes in his last budget.

Miles driven on Wisconsin roads have declined in the past 5 years, and cars are getting more miles per gallon. The effect is less gas tax revenue. But road maintenance and safety issues never cease. Something has to give.