On July 27, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released a memo projecting the Department of Transportation (DOT) will need an additional $939 million in revenue to maintain current transportation funding levels in the 2017-19 budget.
The memo was requested by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Along with the release of the LFB memo, Nygren issued a statement, calling on legislators to find a “sustainable solution” to the transportation fund without relying on bonding. In the 2015-17 biennium, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Walker settled on $850 million in bonding to fund road projects.
In a conference call with reporters this week, Nygren stated that he prefers increasing the gas tax since it impacts all drivers. He is open to exploring additional options, such as vehicle registration fees. In a separate analysis requested by Nygren, LFB compared Wisconsin’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees to neighboring states.
In response to Nygren’s comments, Gov. Walker reiterated his position that there should be no tax or fee increases in the DOT budget unless the increase can be offset by an equal or greater cut in other taxes. Walker outlined this position last month in a letter to DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb. The governor specified in his letter that the DOT should identify efficiency savings and prioritize projects based on needs.
Other legislators weighed in on the matter. Democrats, including Assembly minority leader Rep. Barca (D-Kenosha) and fellow JFC member Rep. Taylor (D-Madison), criticized the majority party’s approach to transportation funding in the last budget. Meanwhile, Sen. Stroebel (R-Saukville) supported the governor’s position.
The Legislative Audit Bureau is expected to release an evaluation of the DOT’s state highway program later this fall. Commentary and debate over transportation funding will continue and certainly pick up when DOT submits their full 2017-19 budget in September