On Nov. 2, voters in 53 counties can send a message to Madison: stop raiding the state transportation fund to plug other areas of the state budget.
Specifically, the following question will appear on ballots: Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund?
In other words, should all transportation fund dollars collected be used only to fund transportation projects?
I hope that you join me in voting “yes” for this advisory referendum.
The state of Wisconsin’s Transportation Fund has lost its integrity, and it is vital that the purpose of the fund and the trust of Wisconsin taxpayers is restored. The segregated transportation fund, which is mostly funded (90 percent) by the gas tax and vehicle registration fees, is intended to be used for transportation infrastructure building and improvements.
Despite the intention of the fund, over the past decade the state of Wisconsin has transferred approximately $1.2 billion from the transportation fund to the state’s general fund to fill the holes in the state budget and avoid making tough budget decisions. There is a disconnect between the purpose of the dollars, touted as a user fee, and the purposes in which they are currently used.
This practice must end. It is time to lock up these funds so that the segregated transportation fund is used for the purpose of which it is intended. We need to make sure that our government is transparent and honest with taxpayers. When a taxpayer pays the gas tax or vehicle registration fee they should be confident that their dollars are going to fund transportation projects.
Transportation infrastructure plays a key role in attracting and retaining businesses, and producing jobs in the state and nationwide. Experience has shown that maintaining and expanding highways is key to economic development and public safety. Economic development and highway infrastructure always go hand-in-hand – a strong transportation infrastructure encourages development and attracts businesses to Wisconsin.
Most state constitutions nationwide include a provision preventing the raid of transportation funds; Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states still allowing this fiscally unsound practice to continue. It is time we send a message to Madison to amend the State Constitution and restore fiscal integrity to our transportation budget.
Dan Vrakas is the county executive of Waukesha County.