Late Tuesday night the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee passed a transportation budget. The budget is over two months late, but now that it has cleared Finance it is expected to pass both houses by next week and be signed by the governor by the end of the month.
The Bike Fed’s first objective in this budget was to maintain the governor’s proposed 8.5% increase in local transportation aids. This is money to help pay for repair of city streets, town roads and county highways – the places where we ride. We’re pleased to say that, while the committee moved a couple million dollars between accounts, the overall increase was left intact. Mission accomplished!
However, our second objective was not achieved. We are part of a broad coalition that is working for the long-term stability of the transportation fund because, while that 8.5% increase is great, it can’t be sustained into the future unless more money is found to pay for roads.
Even Assembly Co-Chair of Joint Finance John Nygren (R-Marinette), acknowledged that his committee had failed once again to deal with the shortfall in the transportation budget, which may be as high as $500 million a year. While Nygren and his Assembly Republican colleagues were willing to raise gas taxes or other fees to fill some of the gap, Governor Scott Walker and the Senate GOP caucus were adamant in their opposition. As a result, they simply punted, delaying some projects and relying more on borrowing than anyone believes is prudent.
The only revenue increase in the final motion was a $75 increase in annual vehicle registration fees for hybrids and $100 for electric cars. Hybrids and electrics make up only about one percent of the vehicle fleet and there are many makes of conventional vehicles that get better gas mileage (and so pay even less into the transportation fund through the gas tax) than hybrids. So, this fee increase will raise only about $8 million a year, leaving us to wonder where the other $492 million will come from.
But on a positive note, we had been concerned that a bike tax might also be added, but that did not materialize.
The legislature has known about the growing transportation fund deficit for at least six years, but we will have to wait at least another two years before they have another chance to do anything serious to solve the problem.
A curious twist in the final motion included a provision that prohibits the DOT or any local government from condemning land for a recreational trail, bike lane or even a sidewalk (see item 7 here). The committee does not identify where each provision comes from and there was no explanation or discussion of this item during the proceedings. So, we don’t know what sparked this or which legislator wanted it.
We are checking to see how often condemnation is used for these purposes, but clearly this was a provision that is intended to be hostile to cyclists and pedestrians.
The final motion was passed with all 12 Republicans voting for it and all four Democrats voting against it. The budget that emerges from the Finance Committee is unlikely to be amended by either house.