By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans are eyeing a $10 increase in the state’s $75 vehicle-registration fee as part of a mix of ways to pay for roads in the state without raising the gas tax, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said on Wednesday.
Republicans are weighing a mix of cash, additional borrowing, increases in title and registration fees and higher fees on hybrid cars. Republicans are also giving another look to toll roads, although they have been hesitant to use tolling in the past because it would take years before any money is generated.
The Legislature’s budget-writing committee planned to vote on Thursday on the alternative GOP road-funding plan, but as of late Wednesday afternoon Republicans had not agreed to a final proposal.
Evers proposed increasing transportation funding by $608 million over two years, but Fitzgerald said Republicans were thinking more about which road construction projects should go forward rather than trying to hit a funding number.
It wasn’t clear if Assembly Republicans were on board with the registration-fee increase.
“It’s definitely part of the mix and the discussions back and forth between the houses,” Fitzgerald told reporters.
Road funding has long divided Republicans and, in 2017, delayed the adoption of the state’s current budget by months. That year, Republicans along with then-Gov. Scott Walker chose to borrow about $400 million rather than raise taxes.
Fitzgerald said any borrowing to pay for roads in this budget would be “significantly lower” than in the past.
Evers, along with advocates for bolstering funding for roads, have been pushing for an 8-cent a-gallon gas-tax increase, which would increase along with inflation as part of a long-term plan. His plan also calls for increasing fees on heavy-truck registrations and the titling of new cars, but would not raise the $75 vehicle-registration fee most car owners pay.
The current gas tax in Wisconsin is 32.9 cents a gallon, which is 11th highest in the country. Under the Evers proposal, it would move into the top 10, according to figures compiled by the Tax Foundation. Fitzgerald said Wisconsin was relying too heavily on the gas tax and he wanted to look at other options.
Also on Wednesday, 10 Republican senators proposed a one-time influx of $134 million to pay for county and town roads by tapping revenue reserves.
Fitzgerald called that a “laudable idea” which he considered to be outside the larger transportation budget that lawmakers are currently negotiating.
Both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the budget committee, said they remained committed to finding a long-term plan for roads.
The plan Republican senators released would rely on a one-time funding boost, paid for with part of a $753 million budget surplus. Under their idea, each of the state’s 72 counties would receive $1 million. Towns would then receive $1,000 for each mile in their town, for a total of $61.6 million.
“We want to help our local leaders fix the roads right now,” Republican Sen. Howard Marklein said. “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 said it would do 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.”