Heavy truck tax hits a roadblock

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MADISON - With the deadline to pass a state budget in the rear-view mirror and no agreement in sight, lawmakers and state business groups are pushing back against a proposal aimed at raising funds to break a transportation budget stalemate.

A plan to impose a heavy truck tax on freight traffic was proposed by Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and has been floated by House leaders as a way to possibly solve the current impasse. The tax, Loudenbeck previously said, could generate around $250 million by imposing a fee on heavy freight traffic.

The proposal has not been formally introduced to the state's budget writing committee, the Joint Finance Committee, with no official presentation offered by Loudenbeck. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has been supportive of the tax plan, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called it a non-starter since a group of five Republican senators, including Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, opposed the plan.

Gov. Scott Walker has not weighed in publicly, but the governor met with the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association last week, with the group coming out strongly against the plan. Walker has opposed raising gas taxes or vehicle registration fees, while Assembly lawmakers hoped for budget negotiating process that would leave no area of state financing unexamined.

The carriers association joined 16 trade groups and businesses in sending a memo to lawmakers opposing the proposal.

"Our members continue to support a nominal gas tax increase and registration fee increase because this would ensure everyone who uses the roads is helping to pay for them," said the group's Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley. "Paying for the transportation budget on the backs of Wisconsin businesses is simply unacceptable."

According to the coalition against the plan, the state's trucking industry footed nearly 40 percent of all taxes and fees by state motorists last year, and contends truck drivers pay one of the steepest registration fees in the country.

Both Loudenbeck and trade groups agree the move could increase the cost of consumer products delivered by truck, with up to 80 percent of all goods seeing their way onto a freight truck before hitting shelves at stores across Wisconsin.

If no budget is passed, state funding remains at previously approved levels, which could impact major interstate projects since they rely heavily on borrowing, potentially leaving the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to pick and choose which projects stay funded through the impasse.

Loudenbeck fired back at critics of the proposal saying she feels a sense of urgency for finding a solution since she represents a portion of the Interstate 39/90 corridor that's currently under a major overhaul, which could be impacted depending on the outcome of the transportation budget. While trade groups and businesses have come out against the plan, she said she wanted to thank those who had waited to hear details.

"I especially appreciate the courtesy of Governor Walker and many of my legislative colleagues for reserving judgment on the heavy truck user fee concept until a more detailed analysis of revenue options, as well as cost-savings reforms and efficiencies, is provided," Loudenbeck added.

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