MADISON — A bipartisan state transportation commission says the state needs more money for its infrastructure.
The Transportation Finance and Policy Commission says if the state tries to just maintain current conditions of all forms of transportation – from airports to bicycles paths – the state will go deeper into debt.
There are nearly 115,000 miles of interstate, highways, roads and streets in Wisconsin. The state also has about 4 million drivers and 5.5 million registered vehicles; and 59 billion miles are put on those vehicles, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
But that investment might mean more money out of your pocket.
The state Transportation Commission says if infrastructure projects are funded as they currently are, the state will have a $2 billion budget gap.
That gap grows to $6 billion just for the state to maintain the current infrastructure.
Facing a future that will involve some sort of deficit, the commission says it's time invest for the future.
"So, really under any future that we could envision right now, there will be multi-billion dollar deficits for our transportation fund," said Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, commission chair and non-voting member.
The commission wants the legislature to change how transportation funding is raised and improve the infrastructure for the future.
It’s suggestions of doing so are by raising the state fuel tax by five cents for every gallon of gas purchased; the current per-gallon tax sits at 30.9 cents. Driver’s license fees would also increase by $20.
The state would start a self-reported, mileage-based registration fee for cars and light trucks, based on the miles traveled.
And the motor-vehicle trade-in sales tax exemption would be eliminated.
The commission says these recommendations will generate nearly $500 million a year over the next ten years.
The commission says the changes are essential.
"We have to continue to support the highway system,” said one of the commissioners Bill Hanson, a grain farmer from Dodgeville. “If we do not, our state will founder."
The mileage-based registration fee takes into account vehicles that get better gas mileage. The gas tax increase is to adjust for inflation.
"We have fuel efficient vehicles, from an environmental standpoint, that's wonderful. Great!” said Dave Cieslewicz, commissioner and former mayor of Madison. “The problem is that we rely on the gas tax to fund the same roads these vehicles travel on. And the wear and tear from a hybrid's really no different than the wear and tear from a conventional vehicle."
Even if passed by the state Legislature, the recommendations would still need to be signed by Governor Scott Walker.
His office released a statement saying:
“While investing in infrastructure is one of Governor Walker's priorities for the upcoming legislative session, he has not taken a position on the recommendations made by the Transportation Commission.”
The governor has previously spoken out against raising the state gas tax.
Another issue has been the use of transportation funds for other state spending. The Legislature is prepared to pass a constitutional amendment that would stop that. The commission favors such an amendment.
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