Boots & Sabers

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1448, 27 Sep 14

Funding Transportation

This is something with which we need to deal.

Lawmakers agreed earlier this year to use $27.4 million from the state’s general fund to help county governments cover higher-than-expected winter road maintenance costs and salt purchases. Vos and Mason, who serves on the budget committee, said they weren’t opposed to doing something similar next year.

Vos said he would consider toll roads or certain fee increases to help pay for transportation projects.

“As people use the system, they should pay for it,” he said, adding, “I’m not necessarily a big supporter of increasing the gas tax because that’s a declining revenue source over time as cars become more fuel efficient.”

Maintaining a quality transportation system is a vital interest of government that needs to be done right. Transportation is the life blood of our economy. To date, Wisconsin has chosen to fund transportation needs through a segregated fund that is filled with gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. It makes sense because it makes sure that the people using the transportation system more pay more for it. The problem is that as vehicles become more efficient, the revenue from gas taxes isn’t keeping up with funding needs.

The state is faced with one of two choices. The state can keep the transportation funding separate and look for a new funding mechanism like tolls, mileage taxes, or just increasing the existing taxes. Or the state can just give up on keeping transportation funding separate and consider it a general fund expense. This would allow the state to use income, sales, and property taxes to pay for transportation needs, but those needs would be balanced against other general fund needs like education and prisons. It’s a big discussion and there are good arguments on both sides.

Whatever the decisions made regarding the funding mechanisms, they do not absolve the state from controlling spending. Transportation spending in Wisconsin has increased faster than population growth, personal income, or inflation. The increase in the cost of the raw materials of road building is part of the reason, but so is poor prioritization and plain old budgetary fat. The transportation lobby is strong in this state and the government spending shows it.

In discussing the appropriate revenue sources for transportation needs, let us not use it as an excuse to increase spending. We can change the funding mix while still frugally cutting spending.


1448, 27 September 2014


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