UW-Parkside forum

State Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, left, listens to state Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, make a point during a legislative forum Monday afternoon, Aug. 1, 2016 at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

MARK SCHAAF mark.schaaf@journaltimes.com

SOMERS — As they stare down a nearly $1 billion state Department of Transportation shortfall, local legislators say there won't be any easy answers.

Speaking at a forum Monday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, state Reps. Samantha Kerkman and Peter Barca didn't advocate for a specific solution. Kerkman, R-Salem, noted three ideas often floated — toll roads, a tax based on vehicle miles traveled or raising the gas tax.

Kerkman said an audit of the DOT is underway and could provide clarity on which direction the state should go.

"Once the audit is completed, it will give me, I think, a better gauge of which one of those options is better suited," Kerkman, who chairs the state's Audit Committee, said after the forum.  

Gov. Scott Walker has ruled out fee or tax increases without a corresponding cut in the state budget, a stance that has put him at odds with some in his own party.

Democrats had proposed indexing the gas tax to inflation in the last budget cycle to generate revenue, but the idea was voted down, said Barca, D-Kenosha. He laid blame for the deficit at the feet of Walker, calling it "nearly a complete failure."

"He's had three budgets, and three times he's failed to really make any advances whatsoever ... in terms of coming up with solutions to have a sustainable transportation program," said Barca, who has supported toll roads.

Split on election law

The legislative forum at the Parkside Student Center, 900 Wood Road, drew about 115 people from Racine and Kenosha counties. It was organized by the Adventures in Lifelong Learning group, which is primarily made up of retired residents in the Racine-Kenosha area.

The forum covered a wide range of state government topics, including economic development, education funding, health care and criminal justice.

Kerkman and Barca found common ground in many areas. But besides transportation, they also split on the recent ruling on state elections laws. A federal judge on Friday struck down restrictions on early and weekend voting and parts of a voter identification law, though the ID requirement remains.

"I'm so pleased the federal court realized it for what it was, which is really an attempt to control the outcome of the elections," said Barca, who serves as the Assembly's minority leader and whose district includes a portion of Racine County. 

Kerkman, however, defended the Voter ID requirement and said the weekend and early voting laws provide consistency throughout the state.

"I have no problem having people actually protect my vote, because my vote counts," said Kerkman, who represents most of the Somers area and western Kenosha County. "Your vote counts."

This story was updated Tuesday, Aug. 2, with information on the group sponsoring the forum.

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