State officials are trying to make sure the roads we drive on and the airports we use are kept up to standards. It follows a report that said just to keep up current conditions the state would end up in the red. Now, some are looking to change the state's constitution to help ease tempers.
"I think it's very fitting for the first transportation hearing this session to address a proposed constitutional amendment," said State Senator Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, in his opening remarks at the Senate Transportation Committee hearing in Madison Thursday.
That proposed amendment would ensure money generated for the transportation fund isn't siphoned off for other state spending.
From 2003-2011, $1.4 billion was transferred out. During that same time, about $1.18 billion was transferred back into the fund in the form of bonds, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. During the 2011-2013 budget, the DOT says about $125 million was also paid back.
"The forecasts are that over the next 10 years, we're going to be $6 billion short in transportation,” said Petrowski. “I think it's ever-more important that the dollars that are designated to be there, are there for the purpose that they were intended."
The recommendations included increasing the state gas tax by five cents a gallon and tying registration fees to miles driven.
Something Senators Hansen and Rob Cowles, who both sit on the Senate Transportation Committee, are dead-set against.
"They're non-starters down here,” said Cowles, R-Allouez, in a phone interview with FOX 11. “I know I won't support them and I can't see many people supporting them. Even Democrats."
"Some of the other philosophy that's coming out right now is rather controversial, as you mentioned, but this is something I think the consumers and taxpayers will understand," said Hansen, D-Green Bay.
The Transportation Commission is in favor of the amendment and is one of its recommendations to the state legislature and Governor Scott Walker’s office.
It's already been passed during the last legislative session. But to be put up for a referendum, it must pass again.
While geared towards keeping funds where they are intended, could the amendment tie the state's hands when it comes to other funds?
Hansen and Cowles say no.
"I don't need it to tell me what to do,” said Cowles, who says he is against fund-raiding of any kind. “But there is a logic to passing it to prevent fund raiding in the future."
"I don't think the governor and the legislature wants to tie their hands, but I do think there is a lot of support throughout the state."
Petrowski says the committee plans to bring the amendment to an executive session soon.
The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, a self-described non-partisan organization, says the raiding of the transportation fund is generally a bad idea. But says it has no stance on the amendment.
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