Wisconsin transportation budget excludes fuel tax increase, toll study

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/26/2017

Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law the state budget for Wisconsin. The two-year, $76 billion budget includes changes to transportation funding.

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.

Walker said the provision cuts “unneeded positions” at the agency. In addition, the governor said it enacts “institutional reforms at the department that will together save tens of millions of dollars.”

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 included maneuvers that would have resulted in charging an extra 7.2 cents per gallon.

Walker, a Republican, was opposed 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 recent remarks. “We did all of this without raising taxes.”

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

The governor used his line-item veto authority to eliminate calls for a $2.5 million study into interstate tolling.

“I am vetoing this provision to eliminate the requirement for the department to enter into a contract for a tolling study,” Walker wrote. He described the provision as unnecessary because the state DOT already “may further study tolling under its own administrative authority at its discretion.”

I am directing the Department of Transportation to continue to monitor and evaluate federal actions and directives that would impact Wisconsin’s highway funding and review the need to further study tolling.”

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

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