Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Even old-guard WisGOPs know today's GOP failing on roads

You know today’s WisGOPs are failing miserably at the Capitol when retired GOP state politicians are openly saying we need to come up with new methods to raise enough money to fix our pothole-filled roads. That’s happened twice in the last 2 weeks, and both of these ideas have more basis in reality than the current WisGOP clown show that has split between “cut spending and let the roads get worse” (Robbin’ Vos and the Assembly) and “avoid any tax or fee increase and borrow ourselves into oblivion” (Scott Fitzgerald and the Senate).

The first of these ideas was put together by former Assembly Speaker (and Supreme Court choker) David Prosser, who put together a multi-part plan in Madison’s Isthmus that would make up for the lack of revenue that is currently in the state’s Transportation Fund. Prosser would start by immediately reinstating indexing on the state’s gas tax, which raises the tax for inflation, and was done away with 11 years ago.
According to an analyst in the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if indexing had not been repealed, the current gasoline tax would be 37.9 cents per gallon, plus 2 cents to clean up underground tanks. Even 39.9 cents would be below the current taxes in Michigan, Indiana and the most populated parts of Illinois.

Opponents of a responsible gas tax increase must address not only the unfortunate repeal of indexing but also the increased fuel efficiency of many vehicles. The Fiscal Bureau explains that if the Legislature tried to make up the revenue lost since 2006 from “fuel efficiency” alone, it would have to raise the gas tax by 4 cents. These facts, as Alexander Hamilton once put it, are “too stubborn to be resisted.”
If the gas tax went up to 39.9 cents a gallon, that in itself would raise around $210 million a year, if you go off of the LFB’s paper from earlier this year on DOT revenue options. Prosser also calls for a $25 increase on registration fees for cars and light trucks. Prosser notes that this would raise another $115 million a year for roads, and the $100 a year annual fee would still be less than most other states around Wisconsin.

Other ideas Prosser has is to put in some kind of “hybrid tax” on alternative energy vehicles, and possibly base that tax on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to recoup some of the costs incurred by those vehicles using the highways. Lastly, Prosser says that perhaps the state should use sponsorships or provide services at its rest areas to get back some of the costs that go into maintaining those facilities.

Not sure how keen I am on the last 2 ideas, but at least they’re more coherent and creative than anything we’re hearing from today’s GOP lawmakers. On a related note, longtime Capitol reporter Steven Walters interviewed former State Sen. Mike Ellis to talk about how he would solve the state’s DOT funding problems. Ellis said he’d focus on getting money from one sector of the state’s economy.
Ellis noted that sales tax collections from auto-related purchases – new and used cars, parts and supplies– totaled $559.6 million in 2015, according to the Fiscal Bureau. That was 11% of the $5 billion in sales tax collections.

Phasing in the diversion of that $559.6 million – from the state’s general fund to the Transportation Fund – over several years would go a long way toward solving the highway funding problem, Ellis said.
OK, on the face of it, that makes sense. Why not divert revenue from car sales and put it into the roads those cars will use? It also avoids the hassle of an increase in the gas tax or registration fees, so it would be largely “invisible” to the average voter.

But the problem is that you are taking money away from the So Walters points this out, and Ellis has a pathetic simplistic response.
But that diversion would cause problems in paying for important non-transportation programs – aid to K-12 schools and local governments, Medicaid, credits to offset property taxes and the UW and prison systems, for example.

Ellis’s solution to that problem: “If you got a (deficit) hole, why don’t you cut spending?
Hold it right there, Mikey, you personally voted for Act 10 and Walker’s first budget, which took huge amounts of money out of the coffers of workers and local governments. We’ve cut the UW System to record-low levels of state support, and are gutting the ability for the state to take care of environmental management and preservation of the state’s great natural resources.

Over in the Transportation Fund, we’ve previously slowed down and deferred projects for several years, and are currently holding up further work on the Zoo Interchange due to WisGOP’s decision to jam through the Fox-con over finishing the (one-month overdue) state budget.

So tell me where is this magic pot of spending Mike Ellis claims that we can cut from? We already have a structural deficit of more than $1 billion in the next budget, and if Ellis’ proposed shift of car-related taxes were put fully into effect, it would add another $1.1 billion to that.

Oh wait, I’ve got it! How about not giving away hundreds of millions of dollars away every year to corporations on Fox-cons and other WEDC handouts? And a 2017 Senate GOP budget that would end up increasing spending on unaccountable voucher schools in Wisconsin by 138% in 8 years isn’t the most fiscally responsible route, is it?

Outside of bad spending priorities, there’s a base reason that we keep on digging budget holes in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan- because prior tax cuts by Walker and WisGOP mean that we have no money available to pay for these needs. Maybe at some point, you have to comprehend that you need taxes to be paid to have a functioning society in the 2010s. Maybe we need to admit that giving the store away to the rich and corporate is keeping us from having the resources we need in order to have our society function, nor has this pay-for-play strategy been the best way to grow our state’s economy.

And maybe we should throw this multi-year experiment in Koch/ALEC rule in Wisconsin into the trash bin in 2018. Granted, I may not have decades of experience around the Capitol like Mike Ellis and Davie Prosser, but that’s definitely how it looks from observing things in the Capitol today. And the ideas of the ALEC crew of today definitely doesn’t add up among us who don’t think math is a liberal plot.


  1. Sorry, but he lost me at "stop building more roundabouts" as if he were some old man screaming from his front porch at kids on his lawn. He's real quick to quote you how much a roundabout costs, but can't offer the comparison for a traditional intersection including signalling...dubious reasoning from the start. Big intersections likely suck up just as much real estate and often get extra lanes added to them to build a bigger, wider queue so more can get through each light cycle, whereas a roundabout (usually, mostly) keeps traffic flowing.

    1. I live near a road where 2 roundabouts were just built in Fond du Lac (on the corner where J.F. Ahern and Badger Liquor reside). They take up huge amounts of land, and don't amount to much of any traffic improvements.

      Jake is right on when describing bottom line concerns, it's been a longtime evolving issue, and pray this doesn't become an "ifrastructure" ploy to advance this Foxconn deal.

  2. Yeah, I left out that silliness about roundabouts because it wouldn't affect the bottom line much anyway.

    I don't get why dumb GOPs can't figure them out. Their antipathy toward it is total snowflake material

  3. One truck causes as much damage as about 10,000 cars, or 99% of the damage to OUR roads! Instead of this 'pie in the sky' making of electric or hybrid cars pay a fee for roads they don't damage how about using some Free Market values and have the trucks pay more that the 35% of the damage they pay now and incrementally have them pay 100% with the starting point being trucks paying 50%?

    1. I'm all for that, and Rep. Amy Loudenbeck and others floated that idea a couple of months ago.

      Walker and Senate GOPs said no to it because it would get them on the wrong side of Grover Norquist, and their donors at Schneider National.