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More Wisconsin communities turning to wheel taxes to fund road work

MADISON — More Wisconsin communities are imposing local vehicle registration fees known as wheel taxes to help fund road work, according to a report from a nonpartisan research organization.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum’s report Tuesday found that only four communities had such a tax before 2011. By the end of 2017, 27 communities had imposed such a tax. Total revenues from such taxes nearly tripled from 2011 through 2017, from $7.1 million to $20.7 million.

The report suggests that more communities are turning to wheel taxes because state road funding isn’t keeping pace with inflation and local property tax levies have been limited. The state requires local governments to spend revenue from wheel taxes on transportation but the taxes can be used to offset other revenues, such as property taxes or state aid.

Gov. Scott Walker said in reaction to the report that he’s not looking to limit local governments’ ability to impose wheel taxes. He said the decision to impose such taxes is a local one.

“I think that’s one jurisdictions have to debate on at the local level in the same way school districts debate whether they put referendum questions on the ballot,” Walker told reporters during a question-and-answer period Tuesday at the executive mansion. “To me that’s up to the local officials.”

Road funding was one of the issues that delayed passage of the 2017-19 state budget, as Republicans who control the Legislature grappled with whether to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to raise more money. The budget Walker ultimately signed in September — two and a half months after the July 1 deadline — ended up borrowing $400 million for roads.