Wisconsin Legislature’s top Republicans push for tolling to fund roads
MADISON — The Wisconsin Legislature’s top Republicans promised Wednesday they wouldn’t quarrel among themselves again over transportation funding during state budget deliberations and advocated for toll roads as a means of generating enough money to fix deteriorating roads.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald appeared at a Wisconsin Counties Association roundtable discussion in Madison along with Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling.
Vos pledged that Assembly and Senate Republicans wouldn’t fight about transportation funding as lawmakers craft the 2019-21 state budget. Infighting between the two caucuses over how to fill a $1 billion shortfall in the transportation budget delayed the current state budget by nearly three months in 2017. Assembly Republicans proposed raising more revenue with a gas tax increase, but then-GOP Gov. Scott Walker threatened to veto such an increase and Senate Republicans backed him up.
The caucuses ultimately decided to largely follow Walker’s plan to borrow more money and delay projects. Walker used his veto pen to erase a $2.5 million study on tolling from the spending plan, a move Vos on Wednesday called a mistake.
“The Assembly Republicans and Senate Republicans are not going to fight about transportation,” Vos said. “None of my views have changed. We need long-term answers. This will not divide Republicans.”
Fitzgerald said raising the gas tax wouldn’t be enough.
“I don’t see how any state solves the issue without some sort of open-road tolling,” he said. “Now you’re talking about generating billions of dollars instead of millions. Even with a 10-cent gas tax increase, that’s not going to get it done.”
Vos told reporters after Wednesday’s event that he wants to complete the study that Walker vetoed to see how much revenue tolling could raise, but that he believes tolls could be set up across “an awful lot of Wisconsin.”
New Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is considering raising the gas tax and other fees to pay for transportation needs. Last month, Evers formed a task force to study transportation funding. Vos ridiculed that move Wednesday as “cute,” saying they won’t come up with anything new and Evers should be talking directly to Republican leaders about solutions.
Hintz warned the WCA audience that lawmakers can’t solve the problem and can only hope to manage it.
He dismissed the GOP leaders’ remarks during a question-and-answer session with reporters, saying Fitzgerald and Vos have been talking about tolling for years. He said tolling would take money to set up and “won’t happen tomorrow.” A gas tax increase would generate revenue more quickly, he said.
“We need money now,” he said.
Vos told reporters that he thinks a gas tax increase would be a short-term fix, at best.
“If we don’t have a long-term answer like tolling or something similar to that,” he said, “all we’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”