By LaKeshia Myers
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is credited with originating the idiom, “the road to hell is paved with good intention”. When looking (and feeling) the condition of Wisconsin’s roads and overall transportation infrastructure, I second Saint Bernard’s emotion because we are truly headed in the wrong direction.
In Governor Evers’ proposed budget he wanted to reinstate gas tax indexing—a policy that proved to be successful in Wisconsin from 1985-2006. Gas tax indexing was useful to the residents of the state because the cost of gasoline continues to rise and fall, while the need for road projects is constant. Tying the gas tax to the rate of inflation meant the cost would automatically rise and the necessary funds for road repairs would always be available.
When the gas tax index was repealed in 2006, this put Wisconsin in a precarious situation. What would happen when roads and bridges needed repair? Where would the money come from to update infrastructure?
Under Scott Walker’s leadership, bonding was used as a temporary fix; transportation bonds are fixed-rate bonds issued by the state to fund projects in the transportation sector. Bonds are not free, it is borrowed money—which means the state has continued to incur more debt since we ended gas tax indexing and our roads have grown shoddier.
This equates to delays in upgrading bridges that are beyond their original lifespan (those older than fifty years), delays in paving roads, and complete abandonment of work projects, such as the Zoo Interchange, which remains unfinished to this very day.
Earlier this week, the Joint Finance Committee met to discuss the Governor’s budget as related to transportation. Instead of agreeing to reintroduce the gas tax index, which would account for inflation and grant the people of Wisconsin transportation security, members of the Republican Party (with the exception of Rep. Duey Stroebel of Saukville) voted to move forward a proposal that would provide an infusion of $484 million for transportation projects, while simultaneously raising vehicle title fees — paid when cars are bought and sold —up $95 from $69.50 to $164.50, which is a 137% increase.
Under the Republican plan, annual registration fees for cars would go up by $10, from $75 to $85. Annual fees for light trucks would be set at $100 — a $25 increase for trucks weighing 4,500 pounds, and a $55 cut for trucks weighing 10,000 pounds.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “the GOP plan differs considerably from the one offered by Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who recommended raising heavy truck fees by 27% and increasing the gas tax by about a dime a gallon over two years.”
The GOP Plan fails miserably in securing the transportation needs for the future. Their plan is shortsighted in the sense that they only focus on raising revenue from Wisconsin residents; no thought was given to raising revenue from tourists and motorists who drive Wisconsin roads en route to other destinations. Republicans also plan to borrow $326 million over two years for transportation. While this is the lowest amount in decades, it is encumbered debt to the people of Wisconsin.
According to the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin: “without increased investment in Wisconsin’s transportation system, conditions will continue to deteriorate and projects important to the state’s economy and residents’ mobility and safety will be delayed. The largest source of state funding, the gas tax, has been flat since the repeal of indexing in 2006. As a result, real spending has declined and borrowing has soared…other states have faced the same transportation challenges as Wisconsin. Wisconsin must either invest for the future or risk falling further behind.
Wisconsin is at a unique crossroads, we are actively shedding our rustbelt image and reemerging as a vibrant, progressive state fit for the twenty-first century. We must embrace what has worked well for us in the past; and in this instance, returning to the “tried and true” method of gas tax indexing is necessary. Our residents cannot continue to drive on dilapidated roads and bridges built for populations and world that no longer exists. What the Republican Party thinks is a good intention today, can be a depleted tax base tomorrow. Just as roads lead one into Wisconsin, they can also drive one away from our state as well.