Verona Road project, Madison (WRN photo)

Verona Road project, Madison (WRN photo)

A member of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation who voted in favor of a $305 billion transportation funding bill says the agreement doesn’t negate the need for a long term spending plan for the nation’s highways. Eighth District Congressman Reid Ribble said the bill represents “a good win for Wisconsin,” with about $355 million in increased federal funding for transportation infrastructure in the state.

President Obama signed the bill on Friday, with just hours to spare before the scheduled expiration of federal road and transit spending, which was set to expire at midnight. Ribble joined Wisconsin Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, along with Democrats Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, as the House voted 359 – 65 to pass the conference report on the spending plan. Wisconsin Republicans Glenn Grothman and Sean Duffy voted no. In the U.S. Senate, the bill passed 83-16, with Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson both voting yes.

Ribble was less pleased with how the bill is paid for. “The minute you move away from the user fee concept, you remove the confidence that the American people have that the roads will be always funded in a way that will take care of this nation’s capital assets,” he said.

Ribble said the funding package provides the states with some new flexibility. “For example, Wisconsin is able to pretty much take this money and use it in the places that make the most sense for Wisconsin, as long as it is in compliance with road and bridge priorities,” he said.

But Ribble, who serves as member of the House Transportation Committee, said the five year deal doesn’t let congress off the hook in coming up with a viable longterm solution to highway funding. He said user fees will be the key component in any such plan. “If you drive on a road, you pay for the road. If you cross a bridge, you pay for the bridge. If you ride in a subway or bus, you pay for it. No matter what it is, you have every single user contribute to it.”

Ribble also thinks that the federal fuels tax – 18.4 cents per gallon – needs to be at least indexed to inflation if not outright increased. Ribble’s 8th District is home to Schnieder National Trucking, but he said the industry doesn’t oppose a tax increase. “They’re not asking for the taxes to go down, they’re asking for them to go up, and it’s a rare circumstance in this country where you have any business person coming to you saying ‘raise my taxes,'” Ribble said.

The debate over federal transportation funding in Washington largely mirrors that taking place at the state level in Madison, where the issue of how to pay for roads led to prolonged state budget negotiations between Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly.

“We have the same problems, it’s just on a national level,” Ribble said. “Nobody wants to see their taxes go up and nobody wants to pay more for fuel. But because the gas tax at the national level has not been raised since 1992, that 18.4 cents of gasoline tax only has 11 cents of purchasing power.”

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