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Thursday, June 20, 2024
Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, disagree over whether to raise gas taxes and vehicle fees or borrow a half billion dollars for road and highway projects.

Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, disagree over whether to raise gas taxes and vehicle fees or borrow a half billion dollars for road and highway projects.

Republican lawmakers divided over transportation budget request at hearing

Poor highway conditions are expected to deteriorate at double the current rate over the next decade, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation testified Tuesday, creating contention among GOP lawmakers over how to fund roads in the upcoming budget.

State Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb laid out a funding request supported by Gov. Scott Walker that focuses on preserving bridges and highways by borrowing funding and delaying current projects.

Gottlieb and Walker agree that gas taxes and vehicle fees should not increase unless funding is cut in other taxes to make up for the cost. If taxes in other areas cannot be trimmed, roads are expected to worsen and consequently become unsafe.

"The governor has made a determination this is not the right time to raise taxes on Wisconsin businesses and families," Gottlieb said.

According to the DOT, by 2027, 42 percent of interstate, state and U.S. highways in Wisconsin will be in poor condition.

“If the funding levels proposed in the department’s budget continue, I have indicated that, yes, system conditions will deteriorate,” said Gottlieb.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers who are critical of Walker’s plan argue that a tax increase is necessary and should not be dismissed if Wisconsin is to have a safe and efficient highway system. Critics say borrowing money and delaying projects would be a “disinvestment” in Wisconsin’s roads.

“This is not something that I’m excited about, but we should consider all our options,” Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, said.

Benjamin J. Jordan of the Wisconsin Transportation Information Center at UW-Madison noted that the rising rate of inflation will be higher than the amount of revenue accrued from borrowing.

For others, the issue expands beyond taxes. Rep. Chris Kapenga, R- Delafield, supports Walker’s plan not to raise taxes because he believes the issue is excessive spending, not the inability to gain revenue. Many lawmakers argue the DOT spends frivolously, questioning employee-travel spending and use of expensive materials.

“We have a spending problem ... that’s where the focus needs to be,” said Kapenga.

Whether the issue is with taxes or with spending, experts acknowledge that the road conditions must be addressed soon.

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