Tuesday, June 13, 2017

GOP Rep: Make big trucks pay for the repairs they cause

Midday on Tuesday, Jason Stein from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel emerged with a story on a new idea that might help break Wisconsin’s logjam for road funding. And it’s something that at least stands a chance of preventing the state Legislature from following Scott Walker’s plans to borrow the state into oblivion.
State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R- rural Rock County) has a plan that would add revenues to the state’s deficit-ridden Transportation Fund, and do so by shifting the burden away from the average Wisconsin driver and put it on the trucking industry. Loudenbeck’s proposal would put a per-mile fee onto the registrations of heavy trucks, similar to an idea that has been previously floated for all vehicles.

The per-mile fees are a way to not only add to DOT revenues, but also make the DOT less reliant on the consumption of gasoline, as vehicles become more fuel-efficient. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes that Loudenbeck’s plan to limit the new fee to trucks would make it relatively easy to carry out, and matches a law that is already in place in 4 other states.
Unlike tolling, with its tolling plazas, electronic card readers and coin machines, the per mile fee would be relatively easy to administer, she said. That's because trucking companies that cross state lines already track their miles traveled as part of a diesel tax compact between the United States and Canada known as the International Fuel Tax Agreement.

One notable exception to that would be truckers who only haul loads inside Wisconsin. They would need to start tracking that information.

Four states already place fees on heavy trucks: Kentucky, New York, New Mexico and Oregon, Loudenbeck said. Wisconsin could mimic the approach of one of those states and be on firm legal ground, she said…

The heavy truck fee could be a flat fee or be graduated by the weight or size of trucks, Loudenbeck said. If Wisconsin adopted Kentucky's 2.85 cents per mile fee, it would raise more than $250 million for the state over two years and cost truckers or their customers the same amount.
This makes a lot of sense to me, mostly because heavy trucks are a significant source of the damage to roads, and they should pay more of the freight (pun intended) to go into the costs of repair. It’s also a fee that most Wisconsinites would not pay, which makes it a lot more politically palatable than a registration fee increase on all cars or a gas tax hike.

It’ll be intriguing to see how this proposal turns out, and not just because a miles-traveled fee on trucks would be a new revenue source for WisDOT. The trucking industry and particularly Green Bay’s Schneider National are big GOP donors, and the daughter of Schneider’s owner has been mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for Senate in 2018.

Yeah, make these guys pay!

On the other side of the DOT funding question, Wisconsin’s Transportation Development Association (aka “The Road Builders”) are keeping up the heat with the release of a recent poll of Wisconsinites. The Road Builders point out that the poll indicated support of higher gas taxes and other fees, and opposition to borrowing and budget cuts as a method to handle the DOT’s deficit.
….Nearly half (47%) believe Wisconsin’s roads have gotten WORSE; only 21% believe they have gotten better.

· Walker’s handling of transportation issues is underwater. Governor Walker’s handling of transportation issues is 44% approve –47% disapprove.

· Given voters’ intensity on this issue, voters’ voice strong opposition to construction delays. Given Wisconsinites’ intensity on this issue, it is not surprising to see voters opposing the delay of highway reconstruction in the Milwaukee area; including, the Zoo Interchange by a two-to-one margin (62%-31%). 67% of voters in the Milwaukee DMA oppose reconstruction delays with 50% strongly opposing.

· They also voice strong opposition to using debt to fund road construction. Wisconsin voters support only two sources of money for transportation and road projects:
oIncrease taxes and fees (41%)
oTake money from other areas in the budget (40%)
Obviously, the Road Builders wouldn't have released this poll if it went against what they wanted, but the findings do indicate that the road funding issue is sinking in with voters (how can you avoid it when you car feels all the bumps?), and that they aren't going to accept fealty to DC lobbyist Grover Norquist and having talking points about "I didn't raise taxes" as an excuse to avoid fixing the highways.

Maybe Loudenbeck's idea of a miles-traveled fee for trucks is the start of a way for the GOP Legislature to try to work its way out of the pickle that Walker's "kick the can" mentality has put them in. But even $250 million a year isn't nearly enough to pay for the increasing needs, even if that fee were to be implemented. As I said yesterday, keep an eye on the shell games and trial balloons in these last frantic weeks, there's likely more "ideas" and head fakes to come.


  1. It's a start, and I think it's a fair one. My problem is that it still represents a top-down, blame-based approach to the situation.

    Yes. Heavy trucks cause a lot of road damage. Those trucks are heavy because they're carrying products and materials for our economy.

    Is it too much to hope for a kum ba ya moment where we understand that roads are a critical component to a functional economy, and everybody needs to be part of the solution?

    Yes. I think trucking companies should kick up a little extra. I think you'd get less push-back on that plan if the rest of us ponied up our parts too.

    Having grown up in Illinois and continuing to visit there from time to time, I despise toll roads, and we need help now.

    I'm for a spread the pain solution. Let counties do a wheel tax. Boost the registration fees some. Do Loudenbeck's heavy truck fix. Boost the gas tax a small amount. Roads and other infrastructure are critical to the economy and good jobs - my opinion is everybody should be kicking in now that we find the funds are short.

    1. Interesting side note- that Road Builder poll also indicates support for a local sales tax dedicated to roads. This has been proposed by legislators of both parties in the past, but has yet to,become law.

      Could that local sales tax be part of the last-minute deal we all know is coming as part of this budget?

  2. I know my notion is excessively Pollyanna but I do have hopes for a more cooperative point of view. Scott Walker has shown little interest in budging when it comes to taxes. If the Leg passes something like what you're proposing I expect a veto laced Tommy Thompson esque Franken budget from the Gov.

    1. I could see that, with the tacit understanding that it'll get overridden. That's the pattern Scotty pulled in Milwaukee County.