Higher gas taxes, toll roads could be considered by local lawmakers of both parties

By Ben Meyer, WJFW-TV (Newswatch 12)


WISCONSIN - Could Wisconsin force drivers to travel on toll roads or pay higher gas taxes? Northcentral Wisconsin lawmakers of both parties seem open to those options.


They say the state needs to find ways to bring in more money to pay for road projects.


This month, a legislative committee voted to borrow a new $350 million for transportation, which brings this year's total to $850 million in bonding. Many lawmakers say borrowing money isn't the best way to pay for road construction.


"There still hasn't been a long-term funding solution, frankly, because the governor has said he doesn't want a gas tax increase, he doesn't want other kinds of increases," said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). "At the end of the day, he's basically saying, 'I don't want to invest in our roads,' then."

Northwoods Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) voted against the increased borrowing for roads from his seat on the Legislature's budget committee.

To find a funding solution, he would consider increasing the gas tax, raising registration fees, or putting in toll roads.

"Those are all on the table. I'm certainly willing to consider them, as long as they're done within reason," Tiffany said. "I think a part of solving our concerns here is to put more revenue into the system."

Tiffany stressed that he also wants transportation spending to be more efficient.

Democrats say, if they'd been in power, they would have managed the road budget more responsibly over the past several years.

"If Democrats were governing, this never would have happened," Shankland said. "We wouldn't have to be voting to help delayed road projects, because we would have invested in them in the first place."

In early November, the Legislature's budget committee voted to release the $350 million in new borrowing for road projects. That amount was in addition to $500 million in transportation bonding approved in this summer's state budget.

The budget committee is made up of members of both parties from each house. All Democrats, and all Assembly Republicans, voted for the borrowing. All Senate Republicans, including Tiffany, voted against it.

"We're getting up to where we're about 20 cents on the dollar that's going to debt service now for transportation," he said. "That's getting too high."

The borrowing didn't need to be approved by the full Legislature to go into action. Democrats slammed the borrowing, even as they voted for it.

"Bonding is not the most responsible way to go," Shankland said. "That's why Democrats support a responsible funding transportation solution that would increase revenue over time. That's what advocates want too."