I've been catching up from being out of town for 4 days, so I'll go with the links here, and maybe come back to it later.
First, here is WPRI's study on tolling Wisconsin highways as a way of paying for new lanes. Lots of the numbers are intriguing, especially at the end, as they look into putting the tolls in either the long-distance interstates, or just around the Milwaukee area. While I'm skeptical of anything from We Promote Republican Idiocy, and their bias is clearly towards sprawl, there are some good points about how traffic has increased on these roads and are projected to continue to go up, so how do you handle these strains?
The other report comes from the 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, and it shows that roads certainly do not "pay for themselves" in Wisconsin. The report wisely points out the state sales tax revenue and local property taxes are both significant sources of road funding, especially in fixing local streets. This backlog in street repairs and property taxes are a big reason why Milwaukee aldermen passed a $20 vehicle registration fee in 2008 over Tom Barrett's veto, and communities such as Janesville are looking to put it in for 2012 as a way to combat cuts to shared revenues and local road aids.
The 1000 Friends report is also a good resource to compare Wisconsin's systems with other states. If you check Page 34, a state like Indiana had $427 million in local 2008 highway funds come from vehicle registrations and various local fuel taxes, while Wisconsin had $303 thousand. Obviously the $6- $6.5 million a year generated from Milwaukee's wheel tax has changed this situation some, but it still shows how local Wisconsin communities have to often rely on the property tax as a source of revenue to fix their streets, unlike many communities in other states.
In a time of slashed aid from the state and capped property taxes, allowing and creating additional local sources of revenue through sales taxes or registration fees seem to be one of the few ways left to help local communities keep potholes out of their roads. But that requires help from the Legislature, and remember that this goofy crew already voted to remove RTAs as a way for local communities to handle transportation funding.
Of course, we'll see if Robin Vos finds RTAs to be an "abomination" when the Road Builders ask for it as a way to fix local highways. See, RTAs are horrible for the suburb boys when they're TRANSIT AUTHORITIES, but when they become TRANSPORTATION AGENCIES, they might not be so bad. Plus, the Road Builders pay you better as well.:P
EDIT: Good follow-up by James Rowen showing that all states get more back from D.C. on highways than they raise in federal gas tax. This includes Wisconsin at $1.27 in spending per dollar of tax.