Abele proposes $60 wheel tax

Wants to generate money for transit system upgrades, infrastructure repairs

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is proposing a $60 “wheel tax,” or vehicle registration fee, for the 2017 county budget as a way to generate money for county transit system upgrades and road and parkway repairs.

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The proposal was included in a transit plan released Thursday.

“Without new revenue and some operational changes, the transit system in Milwaukee County is at risk; fares could rise, service could be cut, and routes could be eliminated,” read a statement released by Abele’s office. “Doing nothing also jeopardizes the county’s overall bottom line. In the past five years, the county executive has been able to substantially lower the county’s structural deficit and pay off debt, but this improvement can’t continue without new revenue.”

Under the plan, each person living in Milwaukee County who owns and operates a vehicle would be subjected to a $60 vehicle registration fee each year.

“A VRF is the only revenue option legally available to the county and will generate approximately $27 million in revenue per year,” the statement read. “Unlike a sales tax increase, no additional state approval is required for the county to implement a vehicle registration fee. This fee, which averages out to $5 per month, is only assessed on people who own and operate cars, as opposed to a sales tax that would be applied across the board.”

The proposal, which comes two weeks after a the release of a Public Policy Forum study that concluded the county and the city of Milwaukee will have trouble paying for needed transportation and building infrastructure upgrades in the near future, has drawn criticism from some members of the Milwaukee County Board.

“Abele campaigned hard in his last election on the principal of not raising taxes,” County Supervisor Michael Mayo, chair of the county transportation committee, said in a statement released Thursday. “Now he’s raising taxes. You can call it a ‘vehicle registration fee,’ whatever you want to call it, it’s a tax.”

Some County Board members say the registration fee would disproportionately effect low-income residents in the City of Milwaukee since they already pay a $20 vehicle registration fee in addition to a $75 state vehicle registration fee.

“Do not impose this new burden on the good people of Milwaukee County,” said County Supervisor Deanna Alexander. “Let’s truly find ways to be more efficient with what we have. Milwaukee County has experienced growth and has a larger tax base this year – we should work within that levy allotment. It’s not as if we’re winning awards for being a county government leading across the nation for efficiency.”

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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