Lawmakers divided over transportation plan

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MADISON - Lawmakers are once again divided, this time over a sweeping transportation plan as the state budget stalemate continues.

The GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted Thursday to provide $484 million in new transportation funding via various fee increases and a one-time transfer from the state's general fund, avoiding a state gas tax increase.

As part of the plan, the GOP would borrow an additional $326 million via bonding, while Evers proposed $338 million through bonds. Overall, the Evers plan would increase transportation spending by over $623 million, calling for both a gas tax and heavy truck tax increase.

Locally, the GOP plan would increase county aid by over $13 million over the biennium and increase municipal aid over $52 million in the budget cycle. The plan would increase general transportation aid by 10%, as was done during the current budget cycle. Local road project funding would increase, and municipalities would pay 10% of matching funds for Wisconsin Department of Transportation projects, according to Joint Finance Committee vice chair Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton.

"This is the largest increase of new revenues in a generation, paired with the lowest bonding levels in 20 years, this plan will keep more transportation dollars going towards infrastructure projects and not just debt service," Loudenbeck said. "We are moving forward on more projects than Governor Evers proposed and I'm confident I-39/90 will remain on schedule and other Rock County projects like Highway 140 will be advanced."

Gov. Tony Evers had proposed a similar plan, but relied on revenue from increasing the gas tax rather than fee increases that will be paid solely by Wisconsin taxpayers and not frequent out-of-state visitors.

"It's clear that Republicans are still struggling to find a sustainable solution to our transportation funding crisis," said Melissa Baldauff, communications director for Evers. "Raiding our state coffers and making Wisconsinites foot the bill for the rest instead of making out-of-state drivers pay their fair share isn't the long-term solution Wisconsinites are asking for."

Rep. Mark Spreitzer said he was "disappointed and frustrated" with the committee's transportation plan, calling it a "free pass" for out-of-state drivers.

"Roads in Wisconsin are crumbling, and our infrastructure is failing," Spreitzer said. "The motion that passed out of the JFC dodges the legislature's responsibility to adequately fund our dire transportation needs, and is especially frustrating for residents of districts like mine who see out-of-state drivers on our roads every day."

The GOP-backed plan isn't even receiving full support from all party members. Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said he had reservations about the entire state budget.

"I don't support this transportation package and have serious concerns over the current level of structural deficit created by the JFC version of the budget," Nass said. "These key factors are jeopardizing my support for the 2019-21 biennial budget."

Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, could not be reached for comment.

This week, the JFC will meet to finish voting on areas like Building Commission, Natural Resources, Veterans Affairs and General Fund Taxes - with a July 1 goal for passing a budget to head before Evers.

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