Tolls roads throughout southeastern Wisconsin?
Wouldn’t that amount to a massive, Illinois-style tax increase? And aren’t many of the freeway-expansion boosters the very same elected officials also arguing the loudest for tax freezes?
The Daily Reporter newspaper reported Thursday that Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi told the Assembly Transportation Committee that toll collections should be considered to help finance the $6.5 billion freeway expansion hatched by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
Though it probably wasn’t his intention, Secretary Busalacchi validated what Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist and others said consistently during the freeway-expansion debate: There is no money to pay for 127 miles of new freeway lanes.
Even though it spent $1 million on the plan, SEWRPC said identifying a financing source for 20 to 30 years of highway construction wasn’t its job. WisDOT would handle that pesky problem sometime later, SEWRPC said.
That’s some million-dollar planning process, isn’t it? It’s like telling the contractor designing your super-expensive dream house to put a movie theater and a hangar next to the pool — and saying the bills would get paid because you just knew you’d find a big fat wallet on the sidewalk.
Without a financing plan, SEWRPC shipped the whole thing off to Madison.
No matter to SEWRPC that the state faced its historic budget crisis. Or that the separate transportation fund was $5 billion in the red.
But now reality is sinking in. Secretary Busalacchi told legislators last week that tolls should be considered because funding for the SEWRPC expansion indeed is insufficient.
So unless freeway backers turn the English language inside out, and argue that tolls aren’t taxes, motorists and businesses in this region are facing a triple insult — a tax increase, a completely new tax and toll roads.
It’s time for the SEWRPC expansion leaders like Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, and tax-freeze champions in the legislature — including Rep. Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, Sen. Mary Panzer, R-West Bend, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and company — to tell us where they stand on toll roads.
And if they support them, how tolls might not be taxes.
Policy Director to Mayor John O. Norquist