Transportation Deadlock Broken in Good and Bad Ways

Late Tuesday night the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee passed a transportation budget. The budget is over two months late, but now that it has cleared Finance it is expected to pass both houses by next week and be signed by the governor by the end of the month.

The Bike Fed’s first objective in this budget was to maintain the governor’s proposed 8.5% increase in local transportation aids. This is money to help pay for repair of city streets, town roads and county highways – the places where we ride. We’re pleased to say that, while the committee moved a couple million dollars between accounts, the overall increase was left intact. Mission accomplished!

On Tuesday night the Joint Finance Committee passed a transportation budget after a two month delay. It was.a mixed bag.

However, our second objective was not achieved. We are part of a broad coalition that is working for the long-term stability of the transportation fund because, while that 8.5% increase is great, it can’t be sustained into the future unless more money is found to pay for roads.

Even Assembly Co-Chair of Joint Finance John Nygren (R-Marinette), acknowledged that his committee had failed once again to deal with the shortfall in the transportation budget, which may be as high as $500 million a year. While Nygren and his Assembly Republican colleagues were willing to raise gas taxes or other fees to fill some of the gap, Governor Scott Walker and the Senate GOP caucus were adamant in their opposition. As a result, they simply punted, delaying some projects and relying more on borrowing than anyone believes is prudent.

The only revenue increase in the final motion was a $75 increase in annual vehicle registration fees for hybrids and $100 for electric cars. Hybrids and electrics make up only about one percent of the vehicle fleet and there are many makes of conventional vehicles that get better gas mileage (and so pay even less into the transportation fund through the gas tax) than hybrids. So, this fee increase will raise only about $8 million a year, leaving us to wonder where the other $492 million will come from.

But on a positive note, we had been concerned that a bike tax might also be added, but that did not materialize.

The legislature has known about the growing transportation fund deficit for at least six years, but we will have to wait at least another two years before they have another chance to do anything serious to solve the problem.

A curious twist in the final motion included a provision that prohibits the DOT or any local government from condemning land for a recreational trail, bike lane or even a sidewalk (see item 7 here). The committee does not identify where each provision comes from and there was no explanation or discussion of this item during the proceedings. So, we don’t know what sparked this or which legislator wanted it.

We are checking to see how often condemnation is used for these purposes, but clearly this was a provision that is intended to be hostile to cyclists and pedestrians.

The final motion was passed with all 12 Republicans voting for it and all four Democrats voting against it. The budget that emerges from the Finance Committee is unlikely to be amended by either house.

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.

10 thoughts on “Transportation Deadlock Broken in Good and Bad Ways

  1. I would be all for a general bicycle tax. As long as it is applied to ALL levels of bicycles – department store and bicycle shop. With the implementaion of this tax, bicyclists would have a legal claim to improvements to the roads and trails to the benefit of bicycles. As it stands, whenever there is a proposal to benefit bicycle riders, the Legislature can simply say we don’t pay directly for the use of the roads so we shouldn’t expect any consideration.

    • About 70% of our members agree with you, William. See Dave Schlabowske’s story on our survey coming in the next edition of your Bike Fed magazine. Should be in your mailbox this month.

  2. Our city–Two Rivers–has been working for nearly 15 years to get a one-mile bike/ped trail extended to our high school, We have a CMAQ grant from DOT, and just last week hosted public info. meeting about routing and design of trail. There are 8 property owners to deal with on ROW acquisition, and while I would hope that acquisition can proceed through a voluntary, cooperative process, eminent domain is a longstanding, legitimate power of local governments to acquire property needed for projects that serve the public good.

    The provision adopted by Joint Finance should be a concern–for the way it was “slid into” the Budget with no opportunity for public debate, as yet another encroachment on “local control” by our State government, and for the barrier it could create for getting good bike/ped projects done. Projects that people in our communities want. But, as Dave C. indicates, tough to get this provision out of a Budget bill that has been endorsed by Joint Finance. Line item veto by the Governor?

    Greg Buckley, Two Rivers City Managaer

    • Greg, this is valuable information. We need to know just how serious a threat this is. We will ask for a line item veto and that may not be out of the question if enough local governments raise the issue.

      • I have also spoken about this matter with the League of Municipalities, which usually puts together a list of requests for line item vetoes as the Budget goes from the Legislature to the Governor. Waiting to see the proposed statutory language, which we understand will be available early next week. I will follow up with the Bike Fed.

        Greg Buckley

        • We have been in touch with the League as well and the Bike fed will also request a veto. Also, we’ll be targeting municipalities with Republican reps and senator to ask them to ask the guv for a veto.

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