Transportation Secretary to Unveil Plan to Fund Wisconsin Roads

Sep 12, 2016

This week, Wisconsin state agencies will submit their spending requests for the next two years. Many eyes may focus on the state’s transportation budget. It faces a $1 billion deficit, and at a time when Wisconsin’s roads are rated as among the worst in the nation. There’s no shortage of opinions as to where the state could get more money.

The consensus around Wisconsin seems to be that the roads here are terrible. Maybe you’ve seen that TV ad. The group paying for it is the Transportation Development Association. Executive Director Craig Thompson says members decided to launch the ad last month, after gauging the pulse of residents.

“I’ve been traveling all across Wisconsin talking to chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, local governments and civic organizations and what I’ve heard consistently is frustration. People are frustrated that something as fundamental as maintaining our streets has become political and is being neglected,” Thompson says.

Thompson says the roads are a mess partly because the state delayed several projects. Gov. Walker wanted to borrow $1.3 billion in 2015 to pay for them, but Republican lawmakers refused. Instead, they approved only $850 million in bonding.

This year, the governor again opposes raising taxes or fees, so he doesn’t want to see any increases in the budget from Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb. But, GOP Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke thinks lawmakers may have to consider collecting more money from people who use the roads. One option a few legislators occasionally mention - toll roads.

“I think all options should be on the table if we do need revenue.” Then there’s the state gas tax. Wisconsin hasn’t raised it, in ten years; it sits at about 31 cents a gallon. Yet Steineke says the gas tax might not be as reliable, as it once was.

“Given that there are more electric cars and hybrids, mileage standards are going up and the idea of relying on the gas tax as a source of revenue isn’t realistic, so that’s why we have to look at other options,” Steineke says.

While Steineke wants to consider other sources of revenue, a boost in the gas tax looks appealing to Democratic state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa of Milwaukee. She says Democrats introduced a hike, last session.

“On average it would cost Wisconsinites about $10 a year. But, that’s what we need to do if we are going to make this investment and making sure we don’t have these deteriorating roads,” Zamarripa says.

Zamarripa says she’s pretty sure the Republican-controlled Legislature will not settle for an increase in the gas tax. But, she’s optimistic the GOP will work with Democrats to forge some kind of bipartisan solution, since so many people are upset about the condition of Wisconsin’s roads.

Another option batted around is to increase the state’s vehicle registration fee.