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Tough logic is behind the transportation referendum

By Paul Snyder

Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds on Tuesday added his name to the growing list of people who want an advisory referendum this fall to protect the state’s transportation money.

The idea’s been out there for awhile now. Basically transportation groups, unions and a variety of state and local leaders are trying to make the case that people want a constitutional amendment protecting transportation money.

I get it. I’ve written enough stories over the years about shortfalls in the state’s transportation budget and the limited revenue sources (gas tax and vehicle registration fee) we have to replenish the well.

I also know a lot of people that, even a couple years later, continue to gripe about the $20 jump in the registration fee lawmakers used to get a little more cash for the budget. Certainly it stands to reason that if you’re going to be paying more for transportation, you want to make sure that money is used for transportation.

That line of logic I can follow.

But transportation industry and state leaders also want the referendum to be the first step in getting new sources of money for transportation. The argument is if people know the money is protected, they’ll be more likely to pay it.

That line of logic derails me a little bit.

I’ve done articles on tolls. I’ve done articles on wheel taxes. I’ve done articles on taxing Big Oil. I don’t doubt something new is needed to keep roads and bridges in good shape and all these future commuter and high-speed rail lines operational.

I do doubt that even if the state manages to segregate the transportation budget, proposals for tolls, wheel taxes or taxes on Big Oil will be any more popular with lawmakers or state residents.

Believe me, I will relish every call I make to lawmakers who answered previous queries for new transportation cash ideas with, “We’ve got to protect the fund first.” And I do understand that a solid transportation system does not come cheap.

But it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people are pretty protective of their money and most likely aren’t going to be overenthusiastic about the state asking for more, no matter how secure the piggy bank.

Does it mean it’s not worth asking? No.

But why not ask the tough question instead of the tangentially related one with the easy answer?

Paul Snyder is a staff writer with The Daily Reporter. He’s obviously not a politician.

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