MOUNT PLEASANT — Not long after highlighting an array of measures the state Legislature passed this session — right-to-work and prevailing wage reforms, among others — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos noted a big one that didn’t:
A long-term solution on how to fund roads.
“I will be honest and say it is my single biggest disappointment with this session,” Vos, R-Rochester, said at a Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce legislative breakfast Thursday at Roma Lodge, 7130 Spring St.
“We should have figured out a way to solve transportation.”
The state budget passed last year included $500 million in borrowing for roads, with an additional $350 million approved in November. The plan represented a compromise of sorts between Gov. Scott Walker’s original proposal to borrow $1.3 billion and others who wanted to generate additional revenue.
Walker has steadfastly refused to consider fee or tax increases. The state transportation fund, meanwhile, was at a $680 million deficit even before the latest borrowing. A transportation fund solvency study, which will analyze the fund over the long term, is under way and will be issued to lawmakers in January, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation said.
How to raise revenue?
The state has struggled to fund transportation in part due to a decline in gas tax revenue, which for Wisconsin is the single-biggest source of revenue for the state transportation fund. Revenue has declined as vehicles become more fuel efficient.
Vos and state Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, reiterated their support Thursday for tolling, saying it is essentially a user fee. That idea, however, needs federal approval and is not considered feasible anytime soon.
State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, does not support toll roads and said the state should consider raising the 30.9-cent-per-gallon gas tax or indexing it to inflation. Both ideas were shot down during budget discussions.
How to pay for transportation is “critically important and it’s one (issue) we’re going to have to figure out,” Mason said.
Highway funding woes have pushed off road work that will result in bigger, costlier reconstruction projects later, Vos said.
It is “not conservative ... to not fix something until it is so broken we have to spend a lot more to repair it,” Vos said.
“I’m not a big fan of another (highway funding) study, because we all know what the answer is, right? We have to raise more revenue in some way or the other. That’s what it really comes down to.”