Boots & Sabers

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2132, 02 May 17

Transportation Plan in the Works

It looks like the trial balloons are floating.

Here’s some of what Kooyenga has discussed:

  • Applying the state’s 5% sales tax to gasoline, which could bring in up to 10 cents per gallon at current gasoline prices in the Milwaukee area. Unlike the current flat gas tax, the sales tax on gasoline could rise —  or fall —  as fuel prices go up and down.
  • Eliminating 4 to 5 cents of the state’s 32.9-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, which would soften the overall tax increase on drivers.
  • Making significant cuts to income taxes as part of a plan to move to a 4% flat tax over many years. “The long-term goal is to say we have a flat tax,” Vos acknowledged.
  • Cutting roughly $300 million of the $500 million in borrowing for roads contained in Walker’s two-year budget bill. That means that over the next two years much of the new money being raised would go for debt reduction rather than for additional road projects — a potential sticking point for road builders who have been seeking more money for highways.
  • Reducing the state-mandated markup on gasoline prices from its current level of 9.18% over the average wholesale price to something lower, such as 3%. That could help shield drivers from cost increases from the new taxes, but this provision will be controversial and likely draw opposition from some Wisconsin retailers such as convenience store chain Kwik Trip.
  • Repealing the state’s minimum wage standards — known as the prevailing wage —  for workers on public works projects such as road and bridge construction.
  • Cutting about 180 Department of Transportation engineers who were added to the department’s payroll in 2013. Their work would likely be picked up by private-sector engineers.
  • Applying to the federal government for permission to place tolls on certain state highways.

Obviously, we need to see the actual plan before spending too much time on it, but there are some good things in here. I like the repeal of prevailing wage, cutting staff, cutting income taxes, etc. I don’t like tax increases or toll roads. What bothers me the most is that except for the prevailing wage proposal, there isn’t anything in here that addresses the causes for high spending. Wisconsin still spends more on roads per mile than comparable states. Why? What about questionable requirements that drive up costs (roundabouts, art work, bike lanes, etc.)? What about wasteful spending on mass transit? Before legislators spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to squeeze more transportation taxes out of Wisconsinites, they need to address the causes of the bloated spending.

But we’ll see… Kooyenga is a smart guy and a solid conservative. I expect that the full plan with have more good than bad.


2132, 02 May 2017


  1. steveegg

    No deal.  Adding the 5(.6)% sales tax on gasoline, which would be a tax on top of the existing fuel tax, is something Illinois does.

    Speaking of wasteful “transportation” spending (which the MacIver Institute has been skewering), the DOT is putting pedestrian benches at every corner on S. 27th St. (WI 241) between Drexel and College down in my neck of the woods to service the non-existent pedestrian traffic.

  2. Le Roi du Nord

    Why not just raise the gas tax  5 cents rather than the add and subtract scenario?  Up here the sales tax would add 12 cents/gallon at current prices, then they want to subtract 4-5 cents/g of gas tax.  The price still goes up 7-8 cents/g.  What are they hiding?

    Cutting staff and having the private sector do the engineering work is going to be expensive.  DOT knows from years of experience that having consultants do all the local program work added 35%  to local project costs.  Ask any county highway commissioner.

  3. steveegg

    It’s simple, Nord.  It reintroduces automatic increases via inflation, which allows Vos and company to resume doubling the spending every 10 years.

  4. billphoto

    Personally, I would like to see our State return to the pre-Doyle tax levels so this bait-and-switch thing makes me suspicious plus taxes on taxes does not seem fair.  Cutting the borrowing sounds good; repealing Prevailing Wage sounds great.

    As for out-sourcing DOT staff, I have dealt with WisDot staff from project engineers to the Secretary and I think any progress in draining the swamp is a good thing.  Given the near 100% cost overruns that have been publicized and the idiotic “we will consider all options before we decide to put in a roundabout” mentality, this looks like a cost savings for taxpayers.

  5. dad29

    “cutting staff…expensive”

    At some point in time, Wisconsin will have paved over every square inch of land, fulfilling Tommy Thompson’s dreams.

    We’ll have a lot of tenured WISDOT engineers then, no?

    The nice thing about contracting out the work?  You can dump them off on 30 days’ notice.  Not so with State employees.

  6. Le Roi du Nord


    Other than the cut and paste quote you said nothing factual.

  7. billphoto

    In Washington County, although rare, employees were terminated both for cause and without cause.  Some were furloughed but brought back soon after the budget passed.  I must admit that I don’t know much about the State rules for employees but I do remember speaking with other elected officials at a conference where I floated the idea of the “Fairchild” solution.  All seemed to think it would work.

    Many years ago, Fairchild Semiconductor in Silicon Valley, had some very smart engineers and a lot of screw-ups.  They opened a new division in South San Jose and transferred anyone that screwed-up to the SSJ division.  This went on until one day, Fairchild announced they were closing the SSJ division and laid everyone off.

    I wonder if Wisconsin could set-up a new division and transfer folks from DOT, DNR, DOA, State Treasurer, Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board, UW Board and maybe even a few Milwaukee legislators to it and then close the division and send them all packing?

  8. Le Roi du Nord

    Maybe we could get the legislature, attorney general,  and governor transferred to that division as well. Win-win for everybody.

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