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VIEW FROM AROUND THE STATE: Wisconsin is finally serious about repairing roads

The short-term solution for better Wisconsin roads is a modest increase in the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in more than a decade.

The long-term solution, given that vehicles of all sorts are burning less gas and moving to a greater reliance on electric power, is a mileage fee for vehicle owners, and open-road tolling on interstate highways.

Gov. Tony Evers, unlike his predecessor, understands the state can’t maintain its transportation system without a steady stream of revenue that at least keeps pace with inflation. The Republican-run Legislature seems to see that, too.

So a reasonable agreement appears likely, as Evers prepares to release his first proposed state budget.

For political reasons, Gov. Scott Walker, when he was in office, had stubbornly resisted any increase in fees on motorists. He thought he could impress presidential primary voters, but his dreams of winning the White House quickly faded.

Walker also thought his opposition to raising more road revenue would impress Wisconsin voters. But he lost his re-election bid last fall.

Evers and others correctly faulted Walker for neglecting Wisconsin’s roads, whose condition trails behind those in other states. Bad roads are a drag on business and the economy. They also threaten public safety.

To their credit, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, tried in various ways during Walker’s time in office to push for responsible plans for the state’s deteriorating roads. But Walker always punted.

That changes this year, with a new governor and bipartisan support for a lasting remedy.

Drivers shouldn’t fear having to pay more money. That’s because they’ve been gradually paying less over time. As they buy vehicles that get better gas mileage, they save money on fuel and pay less in gas taxes. Moreover, an increasing number of drivers are avoiding the gas tax altogether by operating electric vehicles.

Wisconsin needs a modern system of user fees that treats all drivers fairly. Drivers of electric and hybrid vehicles pay relatively high registration fee because they pay relatively little in gas taxes. Nonetheless, state revenue for roads will continue to slip without corrective action in the coming state budget.

The state’s gas tax of 32.9 cents a gallon has been flat since 2006, a situation that has slowed the collection of money for roads. To try to keep up with rising costs, Walker increased borrowing, which was irresponsible.

Vos and Fitzgerald spoke in favor of toll roads last week in Madison. Many Democrats, including Evers, are open to the idea, too.

Modern tolling — in which motorists mount a device on their windshield so they never have to stop for toll booths — can raise billions of dollars over time on the interstates. The difficulty is gaining federal approval for tolls, which could take years.

So in the coming budget, a gas-tax increase, higher registration fees or some sort of mileage charge will be needed for our roads.

Evers and the GOP-run Legislature must cooperate to steer our transportation system forward.

– The Wisconsin State Journal

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