Finance Committee OKs Republican Road-Funding Plan

Wisconsin Republicans scrapped Gov. Tony Evers’ transportation budget Thursday and replaced it with a plan that would fund road work through a combination of title and registration fee increases, an infusion of general tax dollars and new borrowing.

Evers’ budget would have pumped nearly $624 million in new revenue into road projects over the 2019-2021 state budget. The centerpiece of his proposal was raising the gas tax by 8 cents per gallon and increasing it annually to account for inflation. The governor also called for raising heavy truck fees by 27 percent and for borrowing an additional $338 million.

They came up with a plan that spends an additional $483.7 million on roads and scraps the gas tax increase and heavy truck registration fee hikes. Republicans instead would raise title fees by $95 to $164; increase the $75 registration fee most car owners pay to $85; and standardize fees for sport utility vehicles and minivans at $100.

The plan also amends the definition of hybrid vehicles so the Department of Transportation can impose a new $75 fee on them. The current state budget imposed the fee but the DOT has struggled to implement it because the budget didn’t provide a full definition of hybrids.

The plan calls for a one-time transfer of $90 million from the state’s general fund, as well as an additional $326 million in borrowing.

“This motion fixes more damn roads than his does,” Republican Rep. Mark Born said, mocking Evers’ catchphrase “fix the damn roads.”

Committee Democrats argued that the gas tax increase is the fairest way to raise money for road work because it gets money from out-of-state drivers. They likened the fee increases to taxes and warned they’ll hurt low-income people’s ability to buy cars and get to work.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in a statement that Republicans still can’t find a sustainable way to fund roads.

“Raiding our state coffers and making Wisconsinites foot the bill for the rest instead of making out-of-state drivers pay their fair share isn’t the long-term solution Wisconsinites are asking for,” Baldauff said.