Budget Inches Closer to Passage (or not)

Here’s the latest on the state transportation budget.

Governor Scott Walker told reporters this week that Assembly and Senate leaders were close to agreement on outstanding issues that have delayed passage of the budget, which is now going on two months past due. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald voiced less optimism. Still. the Joint Finance Committee has scheduled a meeting for tomorrow and that’s a positive sign.

Not too surprisingly, it looks as if no real progress will be made on transportation. The governor indicated that the legislature would punt on grappling with the fundamental funding gap that has been the source of disagreement. Assembly Republicans and most Democrats would support a transportation tax increase (probably the gas tax) to pay for road work while Senate Republicans and the governor want to rely on more borrowing and some delays in major projects.

The Bike Fed tends to agree with Vos and the Assembly on this one. Our interest is in fixing the local roads we ride on and in continuing those investments for the long run. That argues for a long-term sustainable funding source and nobody thinks that the current level of borrowing is sustainable.

The important detail that may be revealed tomorrow is the level of local transportation aids. One thing we did like about the governor’s original budget, introduced way back in February, was that it contained an 8.5% increase in money going to local governments to fix local roads. We hope that that, at least, will be part of what finally becomes law.

In an odd move that has little to do with cycling, but is interesting nonetheless, the governor suggested that legislative Republicans might pass a special tax on hybrid vehicles. Registration of those vehicles would cost $125 a year instead of $75 for those with conventional engines.

The rationale is that, because hybrids use only a fraction of the gas of conventional cars and trucks, they’re not paying their fair share of gas taxes. While that may be true in theory, hybrids make up about 1% of the vehicle fleet and the higher registration fee will produce only $5 million a year. The projected transportation fund deficit is $500 million a year, so the new tax would be close to meaningless while sending a negative message to those who want to reduce their fossil fuel consumption.

If they’re willing to do that would they also want to pass a similarly meaningless tax on bicycles? We are not hearing that, but stay tuned.

It’s not clear if the hybrid tax will be part of the final package, but regardless of its fate this is just another indication of how far this legislature and this governor are from dealing with the real problem.

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.

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