Thursday, December 8, 2016

Street Sense

The belief that Republicans in the State Legislature can "railroad through" anything they want may be challenged next year.  There is deep intra-party division developing over how to address the looming shortfall in transportation funding in the next two-year budget.  On one side you have Governor Scott Walker, who is placing a premium on campaign promises he made not to raise gas taxes and registration fees without equal tax reductions elsewhere in the budget--and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and some of his caucus members who believe such additional revenues need to be on the table.

There are two seeds that were planted years ago that have us where we are now.  The first was sown by Governor Jim Doyle who took money from the transportation fund to pay for schools in the early 2000's.  That set us on the course of needing to borrow more and more to complete major highway projects and to pay for local maintenance.  That won't happen again because the Legislature passed a law banning raids on the transportation fund.

The second root cause of our predicament was a repeal of the an indexed gas tax.  Until the start of Governor Walker's term, the gas tax automatically went up each year by the rate of inflation.  While we would all agree that tax increases should not be automatic--and that lawmakers should be held accountable by having to vote on those annual increases--it is still beholden upon those lawmakers to actually vote on raising the tax.

And so now here we sit between two dogmatic forces--both of whom refuse to give.  Personally, I would have no problem with an increase in the gas tax in the next budget.  When indexing was eliminated, we were paying over three dollars a gallon.  Now we are down to two-bucks and the "pain at the pump" wouldn't be so great.  The argument you hear against that logic is that "prices could always jump again!"--but given long-range economic predictions for Europe and Asia--along with the installation of a much more energy-friendly administration in Washington, a doubling of gas prices doesn't appear to be on the horizon.  Of course, this should be coupled with registration surcharges on electric and hybrid vehicles--since their use of roads aren't currently reimbursed with as much in gas taxes--and increases in public transit fares so that all road users are picking up the extra costs associated with maintenance and repair.

A simple bit of give and take in Madison should ensure a smooth road ahead for the State.

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