Transportation Question on the Ballot

Wisconsin Bike Fed
The Bike Fed has received a few questions from members about a referendum that appears on the November 4th ballot. Early voting is taking place now so some of you may already have encountered it.

The question reads:

Creation of a Transportation Fund. Shall section 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?

In simple English a “yes” vote would create a fund in which all transportation revenues — mostly proceeds from the gas tax and vehicle registrations — would be deposited. Money in the fund could not be used for any other purpose than transportation — roads, mass transit, bike and pedestrian projects, airports, railroads, etc.

Actually, Wisconsin has had this fund since 1945 and it has usually worked just this way. However, since the fund was not created in the Wisconsin Constitution it was legal for the governor and legislature to take money from the fund for other purposes. For example, in 2003 there was $426 million taken to help fund education. By elevating the fund and giving it constitutional protections it means that money could no longer be taken from it for purposes other than transportation.

The Bike Fed has taken no official position on the referendum.

In theory it’s a good thing when the account that funds bike projects cannot be tapped for other purposes. But the reality is that with the state facing a long-term deficit in the transportation fund it is very unlikely that it would be touched for anything else anytime soon. In fact, what’s likely to happen is that the state will continue a trend of taking money from the general fund to supplement the transportation fund, not the other way around.

So, while our view is that this amendment is neither harmful nor especially helpful, the Bike Fed does intend to be involved in the bigger debate to come about the future of transportation revenues themselves. With revenues lagging due mostly to a trend in driving less and driving more fuel efficient vehicles some new way must be found to fund transportation of infrastructure of all kinds, including for bikes.

If you’d like to learn more before deciding how to vote on the referendum we’d recommend going to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau (.PDF) →



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About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

4 thoughts on “Transportation Question on the Ballot

    • The problem for us is that there’s no clear advantage or disadvantage for cyclists in this. It essentially restates in the constitution what has been statutory policy since 1945.

  1. In 2011, there was a move by the current administration to re-define transit as not transportation. It’s not clear whether they will try again to re-define “transportation.” If they do, would a “transportation lock-box” lock out bikes and transit?
    Please feel free to edit or delete this post if it is not helpful.

    • That’s possible, but it’s not an issue in the constitutional amendment vote. I am concerned that a Walker budget might try to push transit, bikes, etc. out of the transportation budget into the general fund. A Burke budget would be different. We’ll see where things might be headed tomorrow.

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