Wisconsin lawmakers OK roads budget without fuel tax increase

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Overdue for the past 11 weeks, Wisconsin legislators have finally sent to the governor a state budget. The two-year budget includes changes to transportation funding.

The Republican-led Senate voted 19-14 to send the $76 billion state spending plan to Gov. Scott Walker. Assembly lawmakers previously endorsed the plan on a 57-39 vote.

The transportation budget, which is part of the larger state budget, permits borrowing $400 million for transportation work. The amount is about $100 million less than the governor proposed.

Included in the bill, AB64, are new state registration fees for certain vehicles. Specifically, owners of electric vehicles will be charged $100 and hybrid vehicle owners will be charged $75.

Advocates say the new fees are about fairness because electric or hybrid vehicle owners pay no, or much less, fuel tax than drivers of traditional vehicles.

A separate provision in the budget calls for eliminating 200 workers at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Absent from the budget is a fuel tax increase. Assembly Republicans advocated for maneuvers in the state’s fuel tax collection to raise additional revenue for transportation purposes.

The state’s fuel tax rate now is set at 30.9 cents.

The Assembly plan called for adding sales tax to fuel purchases. Currently, fuels are exempt from the state’s 5 percent sales tax.

In exchange for charging a new tax on fuel – equivalent to 12 cents per gallon, the excise rate would have been reduced by 4.8 cents.

According to a legislative analysis of the plan, after the tax maneuvering consumers would have ended up paying an extra 7.2 cents per gallon.

Walker, a Republican, has remained adamant that he would not agree to a fuel tax increase. Instead, he advocated for delaying some work and borrowing $500 million, as well as rerouting general funds to roads.

“This budget includes more transportation funding for all levels of government to provide better roads and bridges, the most funding in our history for state highway rehabilitation, and historically low levels of borrowing,” Walker said in prepared remarks. “We did all of this without raising taxes.”

Critics say the transportation plan is shortsighted. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said he opposes the spending plan because it does not create a sustainable funding solution.

The governor has promised multiple vetoes in the bill. One issue that is expected to be eliminated calls for a $2.5 million study into interstate tolling.

Another provision in the budget addresses transportation of certain radiological materials via highway. Wisconsin now requires affected loads to first be permitted from the state DOT. The permit costs $1,800 with the revenue routed to the state’s general fund and appropriated for providing escort services for the carriers of radiological materials.

The budget bill calls for sending permit revenue to the transportation fund.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin, click here.

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