State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) was one of those sponsors, and described some of the particulars of what went through today.
AB 210 as amended allows counties to hold a referendum at a spring or fall general election that, if approved by voters, lets the county levy an additional 0.5% sales tax, the money from which may only be used for road maintenance and repair. The tax can only be levied for four years, and any extension must be approved by voters. The bill makes no changes to local road aids or GTA (a form of road funding). Money collected will be distributed between the county and its municipalities via an agreed-upon formula.(Of course, there are some of Knudson's GOP buddies in the Legislature trying to stop those school referenda from happening, but we'll let that slide for now)
“Much like school referenda, we believe that if the voters see the need for this transportation spending, they will approve it. This tax cannot be levied without their approval, and can be removed by the voters if they so desire,” said Knudson.
I think it's a good bill and hope it goes through, because the GOPs who run the Capitol have failed to adequately tax for and fund local roads and other transportation needs, deciding on the double-whammy of $850 million in borrowing AND cuts in road projects for 2015-17, with another deficit looming in the next budget. I find it somewhat refreshing to see the GOP admit that taxes might actually be needed to run daily operations, and tacitly admit that the current state budget situation is so messed up that shared revenues shouldn't be counted on to cover those needs in future budgets. Knudson is right that this bill is independent from decisions on state aids, but it also means that there's not much of a reason (or ability) to raise them either to try to blunt property tax increases or other local budget constraints. So given that circumstance, if local voters want to pay higher taxes (or have tourists pay higher taxes when they visit) to keep providing those services and fixing the roads, why shouldn't they be allowed to?
But I find it funny that a bill like this doesn't seem to be an option when it comes to state's largest cities wanting to fund their transit systems through a similar sales tax. In fact, any regional transit authorities were removed in 2011, with now-Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos calling it "a victory for taxpayers"). And having a new sales tax or even a referendum for a new sales tax was never even considered as a way to pay for the Bucks arena- that bill merely continued the Wisconsin Center District's current 0.5% sales tax on restaurants and redirected the money to the arena.
So while it's nice to see something resembling a realistic solution to helping local governments get by in a time of austere state budgets, I can't help but also note that the needs of small-town Wisconsin got precedence over what the big cities have requested for years. Gee, you don't think this disparity in giving local governments the freedom to tax for services has something to do with the large cities in Wisconsin voting for the Democrats, while the rural areas most of need of road funding tend to lean Republican, do you? NOOOOOOO! That can't possibly be it!