Proposed Legislation would Limit Spending by Local Governments that Enact Transportation Utility Fees

A group of Republican lawmakers is hoping to block local governments from using a relatively new approach to fund road maintenance through what are known as transportation utility fees.

On Wednesday, Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, introduced bills that would punish local governments that enact transportation user fees by forcing them to lower the amount they can collect from property taxes by however much they raise from the new transportation fees.

A statement from Stroebel’s office said lawmakers have worked to ensure a favorable tax climate and have increased local transportation aids in recent state budgets.

“A municipality must not be allowed to circumvent the popular levy limit law through the creation of a transportation utility to extract more money from taxpayers,” Stroebel said. “The option of a referendum is always available if the people actually want higher taxes.”

At the same time, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is arguing in Outagamie County Circuit Court that transportation utility fees are unlawful taxes. The firm is suing the Town of Buchanan for adopting a transportation utility district and corresponding fees in 2019.

A 2020 legal opinion written by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities states that local governments have “broad statutory and/or constitutional home rule powers to create a transportation utility and charge property owners transportation utility fees.”