Wisconsin debates diverting highway funds

| 3/17/2003

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is battling mounting criticism that diverting $500 million in transportation taxes to subsidize public schools and local governments will hurt the state’s highway system, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

If his budget proposal is signed into law, $250 million a year for two years would be diverted from the transportation fund. The Republican-led Legislature has called the Democratic governor’s plan a raid on the transportation fund.

Doyle said the worst budget deficit in the state’s history – $3.2 billion by mid-2005 – forced him to make his roads-to-schools choice to call for the $500 million transfer from the separate transportation fund, which pays for road projects. Transportation funds come from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.

AAA Wisconsin has called key parts of Doyle’s budget “wrongheaded,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

“AAA Wisconsin objects strongly to this raid on segregated highway-user revenues, needed to meet the serious and mounting transportation needs for which they were collected,” it said.

Instead of using transportation taxes to fund other programs, sales taxes should flow the other way, AAA Wisconsin argued. Because it relies on only the fuel tax and vehicle registration fees to pay for transportation, Wisconsin has the “narrowest base” of taxes of any state, the motorists group told the newspaper. It recommended that sales taxes collected on vehicle sales and leases, vehicle repair and vehicle parts should go to the transportation fund.

It also said Doyle’s budget would force state government to use bonds – for the first time – to pay for highway rebuilding programs.