Transportation funding could be the biggest challenge in the next state budget, and a proposed budget from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation could be a tough sell with Republicans who control both chambers of the state legislature.
Earlier this year, the governor’s Transportation Finance Policy Commission found that the state will fall about five billion dollars short of necessary transportation funding over the next decade. “We’ve known for ten years that we need to do something about transportation, that the clock was ticking,” said Dale Knapp with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. “We’re to that tipping point now that something really has to be done.”
The DOT released a budget plan late Friday, and aspects of it – including a gas tax increase – are likely to be unpopular with Republicans who control the legislature. Craig Thompson is executive director of the Transportation Development Association which represents various stakeholders. “I think any time you look at trying to come up with a sustainable revenue source moving forward, it’s going to take a lot of education, and it’s not going to be a simple sell,” Thomson said.
Local government groups – the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Towns Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities – have all come out in support of this DOT budget. Thompson said they have the most to lose, if nothing gets done. “Our large projects we can use some bonding for, and there is a large amount of federal dollars for. It’s our local communities across the state that have been left out in the cold if we don’t come up with a segregated revenue source,” he said.
“Local transportation dollars have really dried up,” said Knapp. “Local governments are finding it real challenging to keep up their local roads or any transportation infrastructure.”
With the state facing a projected $680 million shortfall to fund transportation needs, the DOT proposal generates some $751 million over the next two years with that vehicle fuel tax increase, a fee for new vehicle purchases, fees for electric and hybrid car drivers, and an increased reliance on money from the state’s general fund.
“It requires some real fortitude, some hard decision-making, and this is something that is going to be really critical looking forward,” said Knapp.