Some Trail Development Money Restored

Wisconsin Bike Fed

The Joint Finance Committee, in the first of it’s votes on our issues, decided on Friday afternoon to restore two-thirds of the Governor’s proposed gutting of the Stewardship Fund, which is used in part to fund state trail development.

Currently, the state invests up to $50 million a year for outdoor public recreation and habitat improvement. Governor Scott Walker had proposed freezing the fund until 2028. The Joint Finance action rejected the governor’s freeze but restored only two-thirds of the funding, down to $33 million a year.

The rest of the situation is, as they say, fluid.

The Joint Finance Committee, which had been scheduled to vote today on transportation issues, has put off those votes until next week. (The Stewardship vote was in the Department of Natural Resources budget, not transportation.) The reason is that they haven’t been able to come to agreement on the big funding problems in that budget. The committee is faced with three hard choices to balance that budget: go along with a 30% increase in borrowing as the governor has proposed, cut road projects or raise taxes.

The biking issues – the bike tax, Complete Streets and TAP funding – are caught up in all of that.

We’re making progress on the bike tax with support slipping for it. Thank you for all your contacts to lawmakers on that issue!

We’re also making some gains on Complete Streets with that issue being put on the discussion list for the Republican leadership caucus – a first step in getting the repeal out of the budget, but no assurance yet of success. Keep the pressure up!

TAP funding will be the toughest fight of all but we’re still pitching.

So, all in all, your contacts to legislators have been having a great impact, so thank you and please keep it up.

As you talk about Complete Streets and the bike tax with family and friends you might encounter arguments that you want to address. So, below find the most common arguments we’ve heard along with our responses.

Argument: Federal Complete Streets Laws will still be in place.

Answer: There is no federal complete streets law per se. Despite several attempts to adopt a Complete (or Safe) Streets Law at the federal level these bills have not passed. Instead, there is general language in the United States Code that reads, “bicycle transportation facilities and pedestrian walkways shall be considered, where appropriate, in conjunction with all new construction and reconstruction of transportation facilities, except where bicycle and pedestrian use are not permitted.” (United States Code, Title 23, Chapter 2, Section 217 (23 USC 217))

The federal language is not as detailed and would only apply to federally funded projects if the Wisconsin law is repealed.

Argument: The law requires bike lanes to be added where no one will ride on them.

Answer: The law has a clear exemption for when, “There is an absence of need for bikeways or pedestrian ways, as indicated by sparsity of population, traffic volume, or other factors.” (Sec. 84.01(35)(c)4., Wis. Stats.)

Argument: The law increases the cost of road projects.

Answer: The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the annual cost of the program at $190,000 in an annual state transportation budget of $3,250,000,000 or about .006%. Moreover, the DOT has acknowledged that it is more expensive to retrofit a facility with bike and pedestrian accommodations if a need is discovered after reconstruction. Finally, Smart Growth America estimates the savings in forgone property losses, injuries and deaths due to complete street installations at $18 million annually in just the 37 projects they studied. They also estimate substantial increases in property values along complete streets, resulting in high property tax revenues. So, it may be the case that when all costs and benefits are taken into account repealing our Complete Streets law will cost taxpayers money rather than saving dollars. It’s also important to point out that complete streets benefit drivers as well as cyclists and walkers because providing well defined spaces for bikes and pedestrians keeps them out of the flow of motor vehicle traffic.

Argument: Businesses have been lost due to road widenings required by Complete Streets.

Answer: The only case that has been brought to our attention where that is alleged to be happening is Highway 100 in West Allis. But that project is not programmed to be built for several years and, in fact, the Bike Fed is working with the City of West Allis to find alternatives. And the law clearly states that an exemption can be given if, “Establishing bikeways or pedestrian ways would have excessive negative impacts on constrained environments.” (Sec. 84.01(35)(c)3., Wis. Stats.)

Argument: The state law is too restrictive compared to the federal policy.

Answer: Our state law offers more exemptions than the federal policy.
Federal policy authorizes three exemptions from this requirement:

  1. Bicycles and pedestrians are prohibited from the roadway.
  2. The cost is excessive.
  3. There is an absence of need.

Our state law actually adds two more reasons for exemptions:

  • The environment is constrained.
  • The local government refuses to maintain a proposed sidewalk.

Argument: Bicyclists don’t pay for their own bike lanes.

Answer: We could argue that most cyclists already pay their way through the gas taxes and registration fees they pay as drivers and through trail passes they purchase and that most road projects are paid for by general property taxpayers at the local level in any event, that the bike industry already pays millions in sales and income taxes, that cyclists actually reduce the need for more roads and reconstructions and that they do not contribute to societal costs such as climate change and air and water pollution.

But rather than just opposing all new bike-based revenue sources, we are open to exploring some new revenue mechanism. Our problems with what is proposed right now are:

The $1.5 billion bicycle industry in our state was not consulted. Most of the industry is strongly opposed to this proposal. It sends all the wrong signals to an industry that employs about 14,000 people here.

As proposed it is essentially a sales tax and not a fee. That’s because it is a one-time tax at the point of sale and it would go into the general transportation fund instead of being ear-marked for bike projects. As such, anyone who has taken a no new taxes pledge would be violating that pledge by voting for this tax. Even if it were passed it seems clear that Governor Walker would be obligated to veto it.

No consideration has been given to the cost of setting up and administering this tax.

No consideration has been given to what impact it might have on bike sales in Wisconsin and a subsequent reduction in sales taxes from bikes. Would this force more sales to the Internet or to other states?

These questions cannot be adequately addressed at the last minute and the industry deserves to be at the table. For that reason we’re asking Joint Finance to reject the bike tax as proposed and ask the Complete Streets study committee or some other ad hoc committee to explore the issue.



About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

One thought on “Some Trail Development Money Restored

  1. Dave:

    Thank you for the mostly upbeat news for Wisconsin biking. With what seems daily bad news coming out of Madison - bike tax, Complete Street5s Repeal, suspending the Stewardship program, governor Walker appears hell-bent to discontinue and destroy everything that has made Wisconsin a leader in cycling. Lately I have cycled on new (paved, excellent) trails in neighboring states like Iowa and Illinois with the sad realization, that trails like these are no longer possible in Wisconsin. Sad days.

    Dave, please keep battling for cycling interests in Wisconsin.

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