By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The top Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature promised on Wednesday they wouldn’t quarrel among themselves again over transportation spending during state budget deliberations and called for using tolling as a means of generating enough money to repair deteriorating roads.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald appeared at a Wisconsin Counties Association roundtable discussion in Madison along with Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling.
Vos pledged that Assembly and Senate Republicans wouldn’t fight about transportation spending as lawmakers work on the state’s 2019-21 budget. About two years ago, infighting between Republicans in both chambers of the of the Legislature over how to deal with a $1 billion shortfall in the state’s transportation plan led to a delay of nearly three months in the adoption of the current state budget. Assembly Republicans had proposed raising more revenue by increasing gas taxes, but then-GOP Gov. Scott Walker threatened to veto such an increase and Senate Republicans backed him up.
GOP lawmakers in both chambers ultimately decided to largely follow Walker’s plan to pay for transportation project by borrowing more money. Walker separately used his veto pen to erase a $2.5 million study on tolling from the spending plan, a step Vos called a mistake on Wednesday.
“The Assembly Republicans and Senate Republicans are not going to fight about transportation,” Vos said. “None of my views have changed. We need long-term answers. This will not divide Republicans.”
Fitzgerald said raising the gas tax wouldn’t be enough.
“I don’t see how any state solves the issue without some sort of open-road tolling,” he said. “Now you’re talking about generating billions of dollars instead of millions. Even with a 10-cent gas tax increase, that’s not going to get it done.”
Vos told reporters after the event on Wednesday that he wants to complete the study that Walker vetoed to see how much revenue tolling could raise, but that he believes tolls could be set up across “an awful lot of Wisconsin.”
Gov. Tony Evers is considering raising the gas tax and other fees to pay for transportation projects. Last month, Evers formed a task force to study transportation spending. Vos ridiculed that decision on Wednesday as being “cute,” saying the task force won’t come up with anything new and Evers should be talking directly to Republican leaders about solutions.
Hintz warned the audience at the Wisconsin Counties Association event that lawmakers can only hope to manage the situation.
During a question-and-answer session with reporters, he dismissed the GOP leaders’ remarks, saying Fitzgerald and Vos have been talking about tolling for years. He said tolling would take money to set up and “won’t happen tomorrow.” A gas-tax increase would generate revenue much faster, he said.
“We need money now,” he said.
Vos told reporters that he thinks a gas tax increase would be provide a short-term answer, at best.
“If we don’t have a long-term answer like tolling or something similar to that,” he said, “all we’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”