By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — With no deal in sight on how to pay for transportation projects, Republican senators on Wednesday proposed tapping $133 million in budget reserves to pay for repairs to county and town roads.
The idea comes a day before the state’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee was to answer the larger question of how to pay for local roads, highways and interstates as well as other transportation needs throughout the state.
Questions over road funding have long divided Republicans and, in 2017, delayed by months the adoption of the state’s current budget. That year, Republicans, along with then-Gov. Scott Walker, opted to borrow more money rather than raise taxes.
Gov. Tony Evers wants to spend $608 million on roads. Evers, along with advocates for bolstering funding for roads, have been pushing for an 8-cent-a-gallon gas-tax increase as part of a long-term plan. His plan also calls for increasing fees for heavy-truck registrations and titling fees for new cars, but would not raise the $75-a-year vehicle-registration fees paid by most car owners. The gas tax in Wisconsin is now set at 32.9 cents a gallon.
The Republicans who control the Legislature have not put forward an alternative plan, even though the budget committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on transportation. Last week, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said any gas-tax increase is off the table, but he didn’t say how roads should be paid for.
Fitzgerald called the one-time funding plan announced Wednesday a “laudable idea,” but one that he considers to be outside the larger transportation budget that lawmakers are now discussing.
Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the budget committee, said he would review the Senate proposal but remains committed to finding a long-term plan.
The plan Republican senators released would rely on a one-time funding boost, paid for with part of the state’s $753 million budget surplus. According to their proposal, each of the state’s 72 counties would receive $1 million. Towns would then receive $1,000 for each mile in their town, getting a total of $61.6 million.
“We want to help our local leaders fix the roads right now,” said Sen. Howard Marklein, a Republican. “We have the money, we heard our constituents and we are taking action.”
The idea drew immediate criticism from Jerry Deschane, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, who noted it does nothing for cities and villages.
“This is not a holistic solution by any means,” Deschane said. “We look forward to working with them on a solution that’s more fair.”
Assembly Republicans have not agreed to the proposal and there’s no guarantee it will even win adoption by the state’s budget-writing committee when it meets to vote on road funding Thursday.
“We’re going to sit down and negotiate an agreement,” said Sen. Tom Tiffany, a member of the budget committee and one of the 10 Republican senators out of 19 who attended a news conference announcing the idea. “We’re very hopeful this is going to be a part of that agreement.”