Just Fix It Wisconsin

Ernst-Ulrich Franzen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Fee on hybrids reasonable – but it’s only a start 8/30/2017

8/30/17, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –  By Ernst-Ulrich Franzen

State legislators are considering placing a $100 annual fee on hybrid and electric vehicles to help pay for roads and to help end a months-long impasse on the state transportation budget. That works for us. The users of roads should pay for those roads, maintenance and new lanes, no matter what kind of vehicles they’re driving.

Since the only revenue sources for roads now are the gasoline tax and registration fees, hybrids and electric vehicles pay less than their gasoline-powered friends. That doesn’t seem fair, especially when they put just as much stress on the roads as their counterparts. (Of course, we’d also be happy with a system that assesses higher fees for the vehicles — such as big trucks and farm vehicles — that put even more stress on roads.)

But the fact is that income from a hybrid fee would be fairly meager, especially since there are relatively few on the roads. And while their numbers undoubtedly will increase in coming years, it’ll be a while before they can provide enough funding to fill the gap between deteriorating roads and declining revenue.

More is needed; a lot more. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), a budget committee member who favors more funding for road construction told the Journal Sentinel that while he didn’t rule out a fee on hybrid or electric vehicles, he’s looking for a broader proposal to deal with the long-term funding shortfall for roads.

“They’re not doing anything. They’re figuring out a way to borrow more,” he said of GOP lawmakers.

And he’s right. Wisconsin’s roads (and other transportation challenges) require a long-term sustainable strategy that will provide new revenue streams. Borrowing is necessary at times; constantly relying on borrowing is a road to fiscal failure.