Road building bill stalling at the starting line (UPDATE)
Introduction of a bill that would tap sales taxes to pay for state road construction is the first step toward a possible solution to a $30 million budget deficit, according to transportation industry representatives.
But it’s a step state Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, hesitates to take because the legislative session ends Thursday.
“There’s almost no time left in the session, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of interest in the idea,” said Stone, who is the bill’s sponsor. “I think we need to have the discussion about it, but I want to do things that work. I’m not going to introduce it just to put it out there.”
The bill would direct to the state’s transportation budget taxes from the sales of motor vehicles, their parts and vehicle service.
Still, Stone said, he will consider introducing the bill after the session ends because members of the Assembly Committee on Transportation showed interest in a public hearing later this summer, and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, agreed to assign the bill for a hearing.
Mike LaLonde, president of Milwaukee-based LaLonde Contractors Inc., said Stone should push for the hearing.
“I absolutely understand his timing concerns,” LaLonde said. “You’re on the edge of crying wolf, and right now everyone’s rushed, so you don’t want to lose this debate.
But I think it needs to be introduced so we can get a dialogue going and find out where we can get support.”
The catch in determining legislative support is that few people are willing to say they would back a bill until it is introduced.
“What worries me is how much money could leave the general fund because we’ve got a lot of priorities right now and education is one of them,” said Ted Zigmunt, D-Francis Creek, vice chairman of the Assembly Committee on Transportation. “If moving money hurts something like that, it’s a problem.”
But moving money might be a solid option, Stone said, considering proposals to drum up more money — taxing oil company profits on gas sales, tolling and gas tax increases — so far have been nonstarters.
“So in an era where you struggle for potential new revenue,” Stone said, “I think the question becomes: How do we take revenue we already have and put it to new use?”
The lack of commitment to anything that would generate more transportation money is frustrating, LaLonde said. State and municipal road projects constitute 90 percent of the company’s workload, he said, and Wisconsin has no time for legislative indifference.
“The time for action is now,” he said. “It really was five years ago. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. We can look at what other people are doing and copy it. We just need to get off our duffs and actually do something.”
But without support to move the bill, Stone said, there is not much reason to push it.
“I think my colleagues on the other side of the aisle don’t support it,” he said, “but I also haven’t seen any ideas on what they think should happen.”