Road plan coming

Political Beat

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration will soon provide details of its transportation funding plans for the 2017-’19 biennial budget.

Walker has said it won’t include any increase in gasoline taxes or legislative-voted vehicle fees. The emphasis will be moved from construction and expansion of major highways to more help for local governments.

le-pb-photo-2-road-constructionIt remains to be seen whether the shift will be enough to meet local government needs. A growing trend by local and county governments is adoption of their own wheel taxes.

Republican legislative leaders have repeatedly asked Walker, without success, to take a leadership role in providing a long-term answer to financing the state’s highway and transportation program.

During Walker’s six years as governor, the emphasis has been on borrowing to finance transportation’s growing needs. Fiscal experts say about one of every five state transportation dollars is used to pay the interest on the bonds and retire them.

Fuel-efficient vehicles may be good for motorists, but they mean less tax revenues. State gas tax revenues declined 2.1 percent in the 2011-’14 period, experts report.

The emphasis in Wisconsin has been on big, interurban projects. There has been less money for local aid and rural areas are feeling the squeeze.

Local road projects are delayed and maintenance has often become a patchwork process.

Republican leadership in the state Assembly is frustrated with Walker’s position.

The transportation funding issue has gone too long without a solution, according to Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette).

“We have kicked the can down the road long enough,” he said.

-Matt Pommer is the “dean” of Capital correspondents in Madison. His column is published with permission from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, but does not reflect the views or opinions of the WNA or its member newspapers.

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