You can tell when a government entity has little faith in a proposal. It releases details of its plan on the Friday before a long holiday weekend.
So you may have not heard about a plan by a 10-member citizen commission to dip heavily into your wallet to pay for transportation projects.
The Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission released its preliminary findings the Friday before Christmas, and will vote on its final recommendations on Jan. 23.
Here’s no surprise: The commission, created in the 2011-23 state biennial budget, says the way the state funds highway projects stinks.
“The state’s decades-old transportation funding model is not keeping pace with current or future needs. The state has chosen to address its transportation funding shortfall with increased debt through bond issuance - a path that is unsustainable over the long term,” a report by the commission said.
No surprise. For many years, the city of Chippewa Falls pursued the same path and found out that, eventually, you have to pay the bill. And when you do, the pain can extend for years, as the city found in the early years of the new century in straightening out its finances.
The commission came up with four scenarios on how state transportation funding can play out by 2023. The funding gap ranged from $2 billion under the best scenario to $17.1 billion under the worst.
Doing nothing is not an option, the commission found, since the amount of state and local pavements along with bridges would soar from 20 percent in 2014 to 42 percent in 2023.
To fight that, the commission is calling on increased funding.
Guess who will pay for that?
Right. Start digging deep, according to the commission, that is calling for:
-- A 5 cent boost in the state gasoline tax;
-- A new registration fee that’s mileage based, a fee of 1.02 cents a mile for passenger cars and light trucks. The first 3,000 miles would be free. After that, start paying per mile up to 20,000 miles. Odometer readings would be taken during annual registration to find out how much you would pay. But pay $01.02 for the maximum 17,000 miles would result in a fee of $173.40;
-- A driver’s license fee would be boosted by $20;
-- The sales tax exemption on the trade-in value of vehicles would get the boot;
-- And the registration fee for commercial vehicles would be increased.
“If the commission’s recommendations are adopted, the fuel taxes and registration fees on a typical Wisconsin passenger vehicle will increase by $120 a year, or about 33 cents a day,” the commission says.
Plus the commission wants to squeeze more revenue for local governments to pay for transportation costs, allowing the local entities to create a 0.5 percent transportation sales tax.
Here’s a fact: Chippewa County has the fourth highest number of miles of roads of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Those roads need help, too.
Any solution to state transportation funding shortfalls that doesn’t significantly boost money for local streets and highways has a very bumpy road ahead.