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New Wisconsin Road Funding Option: Let Truckers Pay

A mileage fee applicable only to heavy trucks is floated as a third option to close the road funding gap in Wisconsin. The other two options are hiking gas taxes, which is opposed by Gov. Scott Walker, or adding road tolls.
June 15, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"GOP disagreements on transportation are holding up the state budget," reports Jason Stein for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And it's not just a partisan issue in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Assembly Republicans want to raise taxes on gasoline to help pay for highways and hold down borrowing but Walker and many Senate Republicans oppose increases on gas taxes or registration fees. 

Walker had backed increasing the gas tax, notes a February 2015 post, until he became a presidential candidate.

Democrats support raising the 32-cents per gallon gas tax [pdf], but oppose the Republican plan which would offset the gas tax increase "by deeply cutting income taxes, which pay for other services such as education and health care," reported Stein and Patrick Marley for the Journal Sentinel on June 7.

Road tolls

The second option, supported by Republicans in the Assembly and the Senate along with Gov. Walker, would add road tolls, but in a legally questionable manner by only tolling border areas. The idea is to largely toll out-of-state motorists.

"If (Wisconsin drivers) saw some relief and the people coming out of Chicago or Rockford or elsewhere helped where they're used to that — again I'm not promoting that — but that's something we could live with," Walker said.

In addition to the possible legal objections (see a 2013 review by the Congressional Research Service [pdf]), the tolling infrastructure would also be costly, and a federal waiver would be needed to toll interstate highways. A less controversial application would have political merit though. A 2014 Marquette University Law School poll showed greater support for road tolls than increasing gas taxes.

New heavy truck fee

The proposal is being floated by Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) and is already done by Kentucky, New York, New Mexico, and Oregon, according to Loudenbeck. "Wisconsin could mimic the approach of one of those states and be on firm legal ground, she said," reports Stein.   

If Wisconsin adopted Kentucky's 2.85 cents per mile fee [called a weight distance tax], it would raise more than $250 million for the state over two years and cost truckers or their customers the same amount, Loudenbeck said.

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) have talked with Loudenbeck about her idea and haven't ruled it out. 

The fee has merit as heavy trucks cause disproportionate wear to roads and bridges.

Road Damage and Vehicle type/weight

vehicle-weight-and-damage-chart

Credit:  streets.mn

Stein reports that trucking companies might not necessarily be opposed to the fee as some may see it as preferable to new tolls. In addition, implementation may not be that difficult "because trucking companies that cross state lines already track their miles traveled as part of a fuel tax compact between the U.S. and Canada," writes Stein.

One notable exception to that would be truckers who only haul loads inside Wisconsin. They would need to start tracking that information.  

"I think this could be part of a broader solution as a revenue generator that's equitable and sustainable," said Loudenbeck.

Just hike the gas tax!

"Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton, a Democrat on the budget committee, said Republicans should stop looking at unusual options for funding roads and simply raise the existing tax on gasoline," adds Stein.

"This underscores how far they're willing to go to not raise the gas tax," he said. 

Hat tip to AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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