Thursday, February 11, 2016

WisGOP failure on road sales tax means more messes on the street

I’ve occasionally discussed a push in the State Legislature by rural and outstate legislators to allow for a new 0.5% local sales tax that is dedicated for road maintenance and related street work. In general, I support this move, although I question why the WisGOP Legislature has been negligent in giving adequate funding to local governments, which caused the problem in the first place.

Well that bill has turned into a debacle that illustrates just how incapable the Wisconsin GOP is when it comes to putting together real solutions for real issues. It was scheduled to be discussed in the Assembly on Tuesday, but it was promptly delayed and never voted on. So they thought they might able to pass it today as part of a massive Assembly calendar, but instead the bill failed again to get enough support to reach the floor, and now Assembly Speaker Robbin' Vos says he doesn't think the bill can get through because not enough Republicans can agree on the details And given that Vos is trying to wrap up the Assembly's session next week (despite the fact that all members of the Assembly continue to be paid for the 8 months afterwards), thatlikely means the local sales tax for roads is off the table for the at least the rest of this year.

Doubly interesting was an compromise amendment that Vos and outgoing GOP Rep. Dean Knudson tried to tack onto the sales tax bill for more support for this “local road sales tax" bill, one which would have placed a ban on new local vehicle registration fees, or “wheel taxes”. The proposed ban is especially intriguing since 14 Wisconsin communities currently have a wheel tax, and 11 of those have either began or been raised since the start of 2015. It was a lame attempt to try to save face with voters by saying “Look, we’ll keep your car registrations at $75!”

Not only would wheel taxes have been banned, but the bill had the ban taking effect yesterday, meaning that local elected officials couldn’t even consider them as an alternative to a referendum for the sales tax. Which sure seemed like yet another example of this “small-government GOP” Legislature micro-managing local governments. And just like with the attempted limitation on school referenda and continuing strict property tax limits (something Gov Walker just re-committed to this week), the WisGOP Legislature is desperately trying to limit the higher taxes and fees the locals have had to impose in recent years... The same taxes and fees that are a direct result of the WisGOP Legislature not giving them enough funding in the first damn place!

The problems surrounding this bill, which would allow local governments the freedom to offload some of their expenses on road repair from the property tax and make tourists and others pay some of the freight, is symptomatic of how Baggers fail to govern. The Wisconsin GOP have proven themselves incapable of handling state finances in a responsible manner, one which would be able to keep state and local taxes relatively low while maintaining needed services. Instead, they have chosen lower state taxes and giveaways to their corporate campaign contributors, while stiffing the local governments, who are either constantly having to raise property taxes, or see needed maintenance and services decline. This mentality helps explain why the state’s economy continues to stagnate (if not outright decline), and now all of us are paying the price for those bad decisions.

This is especially true when it comes to funding work on local roads, as another budget year will slip by without additional help for those communities, either in the form of added state aid, or allowing them to put on a local sales tax to pay for those roads. Which means you can expect more potholes and more wheel taxes for this year and next year, and you can thank the lack of leadership being shown at the Capitol by the Wisconsin GOP and Gov Walker for that ongoing problem. Do NOT let them escape without consequence this Fall.

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