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Wisconsin gas tax hike recommended; to increase heavy vehicle registration

The recommendations, which include a gas tax increase and a new mileage-based registration fee, would generate nearly $4.8 billion over 10 years to pay for road, bridge, airport, bicycle and other transportation-related projects.

By SCOTT BAUER
The Associated Press

1/24/2013

MADISON, Wis. — A bipartisan task force's recommendations to raise a variety of Wisconsin's driving-related taxes and fees to pay for transportation upgrades ran into a dead end Wednesday — Republican leaders in the state Assembly.

The recommendations, which include a gas tax increase and a new mileage-based registration fee, would generate nearly $4.8 billion over 10 years to pay for road, bridge, airport, bicycle and other transportation-related projects. The average driver would pay $120 more a year.

Not so fast, said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Suder, both Republicans, in a joint statement. They said the gas tax increase and new registration fee would not pass the GOP-controlled Assembly.

"Raising taxes will only serve to damage our recovering economy," Suder said. "Any increase in the state gas tax is simply off the table."

Gov. Scott Walker has also come out against raising the gas tax. His spokesman said Walker had not taken a position on the report, but his own plan for transportation spending would be released in his budget on Feb. 20. Walker has signaled he was looking at using general fund tax money to help pay for transportation needs.

Doing nothing will result in serious deterioration of the state's highways, increased urban congestion and reduced service levels for public transit, the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission said in its report. The commission was created by the Legislature and Walker in 2011 to study the state's transportation system needs and how to fund those.

Members of the task force, including Walker's appointed head of the state Department of Transportation, urged the Legislature to take a serious look at its proposal that relies on higher taxes and fees.

"Is it an uphill fight? Absolutely," said former state representative and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, a member of the task force.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's spokesman said he would review the proposal, but did not comment on its merits.

The report calls for:

— Raising by 73 percent the annual registration fees for vehicles weighing over 8,000 pounds. That would raise $85 million a year.

— Raising the gas tax 5 cents per gallon, the first increase since 2006, which would bring in $159 million a year. The tax currently is 30.9 cents a gallon.

— Creating a new mileage-based registration fee of 1.02 cents-per-mile up to 20,000 miles for cars and light trucks. The first 3,000 miles would be free, meaning the fee would top out at $204, compared to the $75 flat fee now. That would raise $228 million annually.

— Increasing the driver's license fee by $20 to $54 to bring in $16.1 million a year, and

— Eliminating the sales tax exemption on the trade-in value of vehicles, bringing in nearly $92 million a year.

Antaramian said policy makers must take a serious look at the state's transportation system needs and the importance the system plays to economic development.

"The options you have are limited," he said in reference to funding.

Democratic state Rep. Robb Kahl, a member of the commission and former mayor of Monona, said the state's long-term transportation needs can't be met by tapping the general fund and issuing more bonds. How to pay for the needs is a "debate we need to have," he said.

Former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who described himself as a "token liberal" on the panel, said he would have liked to see less road building proposed. Still, he supported the call for a 21 percent increase in public transit, a 40 percent increase in bike and pedestrian paths and recommendations for regional transit authorities.

Release of the report comes as the Legislature is prepared to pass a constitutional amendment that would bar diverting money from the state's transportation fund for other spending. It already passed the Legislature last session and once it passes again, as is required for any proposed constitutional amendment, it will be put before voters.

The commission supports that amendment.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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