Boots & Sabers

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0807, 12 Oct 21

Appleton considers a transportation utility fee

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I sound a warning bell about a push for a new kind of tax. Here’s a part:

The city of Appleton was one of the first municipalities in Wisconsin to implement a wheel tax. Now, in what might be the start of a new tax trend, they are considering implementing another new tax after finding that the wheel tax is not generating enough tax money to cover their spending.




What is a transportation utility fee? Invented in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1984, a transportation utility fee is based on the rationale that the transportation infrastructure functions as a public utility like the water, sewer, or electricity systems. As a utility, users of the transportation system are charged based on their consumption of the system. Also, conveniently for the taxing authority, utility fees are not subject to the same strictures as taxes and can be implemented with more impunity by the local government.


Unlike water, sewer, and electricity, however, there is not a good way to actually measure the consumption of the transportation infrastructure without tracking each individual’s movement on the roads. Absent the technical, political, or cultural feasibility of always having the government tracking everyone’s movements (that might be coming), a government that wishes to implement a transportation utility fee must use proxy distinctions to divvy up the fee.




If we are to treat our transportation infrastructure as a utility, then we must also rescind all of the other taxes and fees that are levied to pay for our transportation infrastructure. Our transportation infrastructure is either a utility to be funded through user fees or it is a public good to be supported through general taxes. It cannot be both.


0807, 12 October 2021


  1. Tuerqas

    It cannot be both? Surely you jest, or at least vastly underestimate the power of Government. Who would stop it from being both if Guv decided to define roads and certain other things as a public good, but public transportation as a utility? Other people in Guv? Deny a money source to themselves? Why would they do that? Money in Guv is power. Dems will say it is necessary and Reps may bemoan the injustice, but one thing Guv has never been good at and getting worse at every decade is releasing any sort of power, once gained.

  2. dad29

    Yup. You’ll note that both the Great Hero Thompson and the Lesser Hero Walker INCREASED the number of full-time employee equivalents (FTE) during their regimes.

    Goes without saying that Doyle and Tin-Pot do the same.

    We’ll see how long it takes Appleton property-owners to smack this down. My guess: they won’t.

  3. ThreeJanz

    With current technology it’s possible for someone to prove they never use public transportation.

  4. Tuerqas

    Sure ThreeJanz, but what was your point? Two of the 4 siblings in my family did not have children, but we all pay for schools ‘as an investment’ our whole lives as I have been told dozens and dozens of times. PubTran is the exact same thing. If only the users paid for it, it would be so expensive that they would buy a cheap car instead.

    The first thing any pubtran has to be is cheaper than private transportation for anyone to use it, and even I will admit that “public” transportation needs to be paid for by the public. It is for everybody whether you partake or not.

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