Despite controlling both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, Republicans can’t seem to find common ground on the state budget, especially on the questions of funding for transportation and education.
There’s no reason to panic – the state will continue to function even if legislators don’t pass a budget by July 1 – but continued delay and disagreement don’t bode well for providing thoughtful strategic solutions to the state’s most serious fiscal challenges.
Transportation is one of those challenges. With roads and bridges deteriorating and traditional transportation revenue (gas tax and registration fees) unlikely to provide the funds needed, Republicans need to come up with a sustainable strategic plan for the long term. So far, they’re not even close.
Some, such as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, are at least willing to talk about alternative funding such as toll roads. Others are willing to raise the gasoline tax and registration fees.
We think what’s needed is a combination: A moderate increase in the gas tax, toll roads, perhaps sales taxes, as Rep. Dale Kooyenga has suggested, perhaps a vehicle miles traveled system.
The best system would maintain the idea that users should pay for roads while ensuring a steady and sufficient stream of income from those users given the fact that vehicles are becoming ever more efficient and able to use less gasoline, the traditional source of road funding.
Sadly, Republicans can’t look to the governor for help, or even a reasonable long-term plan. He would borrow more and put off some necessary major projects, such as improving the I-94 East-West Corridor through Milwaukee. That simply wastes money and kicks the can down the proverbial road to future generations. It’s unfair to them and it’s unfair to the businesses looking for a reliable transportation network to grow the economy.
Walker needs to take off his blinders and recognize the severity of the problem. And he needs to sit down and come to terms with Vos and Fitzgerald on a solution that can meet long-term needs.
Republicans do have urgent work to do on this budget beyond transportation, including funding for rural schools. They need to show voters that they can do their jobs in a timely manner.
Failure will leave the state a lot more than a day late and a dollar short.