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Critics misunderstand transportation amendment

By Craig Thompson

Talk about misreading the outcome of an election.

When it comes to Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment to segregate the transportation fund, many of the pundits and prognosticators are so far off the mark it is laughable. On Election Day, 80 percent of the voters, more than 1.7 million people, voted yes to amend the Wisconsin Constitution so the transportation user fees have to be spent on maintaining and improving the transportation system.

Other than asking if the Packers are your favorite NFL team, I am not certain there is another topic that could have garnered that kind of agreement in the Badger State.

But the post-election analysis has amounted to such snarky and cynical remarks as: “a bonanza for the road builders” or “They are now the first special-interest group in Wisconsin to have their own constitutional amendment. We will soon find out if it’s possible to pave over an entire state.”

Really? That is the analysis?

This amendment does not give one penny to the companies that have the audacity to design, engineer and build roads and bridges in this state. The Legislature and governor still decide what level to set those taxes and fees. It also is their job to determine spending priorities within the transportation fund.

The amendment simply ensured the transportation user fees would be spent on transportation.

The vehicle registration fee is $75 a year for most people. That didn’t change as a result of the amendment. The Legislature and governor could make that fee $1 a year or $1000.

The “analysis” also misses the fact that Wisconsin has a multimodal transportation fund. That is why the Wisconsin Airport Management Association, the Wisconsin Ports Association, and the Wisconsin Urban and Rural Transit Association were part of a coalition that pushed for the amendment.

Do the pundits remember how the drive for the amendment got rolling?

It was county governments across the state that placed advisory questions before voters in 2010. Fifty-four counties asked if the state Constitution should be amended to require the money be used for its intended purpose.

Another 11 counties passed resolutions in support. Voters at the time sent a clear message that they wanted that protection, and legislators listened.

During the course of four years, public hearings were held, many groups and individuals registered and testified in support, and not one group registered or testified in opposition.

Legislators took the input and passed a joint resolution in two consecutive sessions to place the question on the statewide ballot. And finally, the voters spoke.

The arrogance of calling the vote a give-away to a special-interest group is stunning. Even if every proposal or vote by elected officials was framed as a quid pro quo for donations, what about the voting public? Don’t they deserve more respect?

I would hate to see what the analysis of past events would have been if covered by some of today’s media: “Aerospace industry fleeces taxpayers as Neil Armstrong struts on the moon” or “President Lincoln provides railroad tycoons early birthday present.”

The amendment was about transparency and credibility in government. The voters clearly understood that, even if some pundits still do not.

Thompson is the executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

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