Time and time again, studies, reports and rankings show that Wisconsin’s infrastructure is far from up to par.
Our streets and bridges are in dire need of replacement and repair. Not only is this aesthetically unpleasing and hard on vehicles, it’s a safety issue as well. Organizations representing state troopers, firefighters, sheriff’s offices and police recently called upon the state Legislature to approve a sustainable road funding plan.
“Police and firefighters from across Wisconsin say public safety is being put at risk because of poor road conditions,” reads an Associated Press story.
Gov. Tony Evers proposed a plan that, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, would bring in an additional $608 million for transportation over two years. Most of that amount would come from a higher gas tax, with the rest coming from fees on heavy trucks, hybrid vehicles and vehicle titles.
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According to the American Petroleum Institute, in July of last year Pennsylvania had the highest rate for state taxes and fees on a gallon of gas at 58.7 cents. California was second at 55.2 cents and Washington third at 49.4 cents. Alaska had the lowest rate at 14.65 cents, followed by Missouri (17.35 cents) and Mississippi (18.79 cents).
Wisconsin was No. 19 at 32.9 cents per gallon.
As proposed by Evers, an 8-cent increase would push that figure to just over 40 cents, putting our state about 10th-highest in the nation (but likely even lower as other states also make efforts to raise their transportation funding).
Is that too high a price to improve our infrastructure, which often ranks among the nation’s worst? We don’t think so.
Others are not as convinced. According to the Associated Press, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said recently that Republicans on the Legislature’s finance committee plan to revise the proposals and that the GOP has ruled out raising the gas tax. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement that a gas tax increase would be “tough to get done.”
The Joint Committee on Finance was scheduled to discuss the issue Thursday.
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Nobody wants a rise in their expenses, but an uptick in the gas tax is the prudent move given conditions in our state.
Tolls have been brought up as a possible solution, but they come with their own challenges. Startup costs would delay gains in revenue significantly and Stephanie Kane, spokesperson for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, told Wisconsin Public Radio they’re inefficient, with about a dime of every dollar going toward overhead.
One advantage of tolls is that they represent a user fee — visitors using Wisconsin roads would help pay for them. However, that’s also the case with a gas tax.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last year voiced its support for an increase in the federal gas tax.
“The ... chamber has long believed that implementing a modest increase in the motor vehicle fuel user fee (also known as the gas tax) is the simplest, fairest, and most effective way to raise the money that America needs to fund critical upgrades to our roads, bridges, and transit systems,” wrote Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer.
The same could be said at the state level.
None of us wants to pay more in taxes. But we’ve yet to see a more efficient strategy to improve our infrastructure, which has a significant impact on Wisconsin’s economy and quality of life.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor