Walker Won’t Support Fee Increases for DOT, Maintains UW Stance, Backs Off Agency Mergers

MacIver Institute Budget Blog | May 11, 2015

[Madison, Wisc…] Gov. Scott Walker chimed in on the budget debate last week with statements on some of the bigger policy changes. On the UW System, Walker is hoping legislators will take another look at his plan to “spin off” the System into its own public authority. Joint Finance co-chairs John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) called that plan “dead” last week. Walker still believes that the $300 million cut is “realistic” and “manageable” so long as UW System has the right flexibilities to manage their own finances.

The governor also said that he won’t support vehicle registration fee increases to raise revenue for transportation unless there is an offsetting tax or fee decrease somewhere else.

Walker is backing off his original plan to merge a few smaller agencies. Walker’s original budget merges the Department of Financial Institutions with the Department of Safety and Professional Services, and also combines the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Agency. Apparently, Walker is withdrawing support because of “concerns raised by stakeholders.” That’s a shame because the merger plan seemed like a great first step in state government consolidation.

But lets get back to the transportation budget.

All the attention has been on the revenue side of the equation when it comes to Wisconsin’s infrastructure needs. Most argue over the right level of bonding and whether or not we should increase the state’s gas tax or hike this or that vehicle registration fee.

Let’s give a little perspective here. Wisconsin has the 14th highest state gas tax in the nation at 32 cents per gallon. That is third in the Midwest with Michigan (33 cents) and tax-happy Illinois (34 cents) just edging out the Badger State.

What’s more, Wisconsin spent more per resident on transportation than 33 other states in 2013, and more than 32 states in 2014. Only Minnesota spends more per capita on transportation in the Midwest than Wisconsin.

Instead of only listening to the special interest groups who want to pad their bottom line, legislators should stretch our current transportation dollar to do more and scrutinize transportation spending. Literally everywhere you drive in this great state, you see orange cones and road construction.

If the entire state is already “Under Construction”, why do we need a higher gas tax and more transportation spending? Before we break out the credit card or raise taxes, lets make sure current transportation spending is going only to the most needed projects and all the waste has been eliminated.