Wisconsin lawmakers near transportation fund protection

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, February 21, 2013

More than two years after Wisconsin voters demanded that transportation funds be protected from raids, state lawmakers are nearing approval of a constitutional amendment to prevent legislators from dipping into the fund.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, an estimated $1.2 billion was swiped from the transportation fund over a 10-year period. The fund has borrowed to replace most of the money diverted during former Gov. Jim Doyle’s term.

Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said it is a shame that the state needs to act to make sure tax dollars for transportation are not put to other uses.

“Citizens deserve to be assured that the money they spend to put fuel in their tanks and fees for their renewals remain for the purpose it was originally intended,” Thiesfeldt said in a news release.

The Assembly voted 82-13 to pass a proposed amendment to the state Constitution – AJR2 – to require any money collected through the state’s fuel tax and vehicle fees to be spent on transportation projects.

Senate lawmakers can now consider following suit.

In order for the Wisconsin Constitution to be amended state lawmakers must approve the change in two consecutive sessions. Voters would then need to approve it during the November 2014 election.

Wisconsin lawmakers first approved the change during the 2011 regular session. The Senate endorsed the proposal on a 26-6 vote.

If recent history is any indication, public approval should not be a concern.

Fed up with the countless occurrences of state government dipping into transportation funding to help fill other budgets, Election Day 2010 gave voters in 53 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties the opportunity to make their voices heard on the importance of keeping transportation funds intact. Each county voted in favor of amending the state Constitution to prohibit transfers of money from the state’s transportation trust fund for purposes not related to transportation.

Supporters say protections are needed for counties and municipalities because they rely on general transportation aid from the state. Every time the state dips into the fund and shifts money to other programs or projects, local road maintenance and projects suffer the consequences.

Critics say protections from raids should be more far reaching.

“Where are the constitutional amendments to protect Wisconsin’s hardworking middle class families from raids?” stated Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton.

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

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