Just Fix It Wisconsin

Wisconsin drivers lose as the can keeps being kicked down the road 7/1/2018

7/1/18 – Kenosha News

Taking a vacation out of state this holiday weekend or over the summer?

If so, you’ll likely come back talking about the roads. They’re better almost anywhere you go.

Democrats for governor and lieutenant governor are finding out about the roads first-hand as they crisscross Wisconsin. They’ve been talking about them when they visit the Kenosha News editorial board.

Top three priorities for the state? Dedicated highway funding is right there.

“I literally feel how bad the roads are,” said Kelda Roys, who is traveling thousands of miles in her gubernatorial campaign.

“We have to get on a maintenance plan that continues to fix our roads every year,” said Marlon Mitchell, also running for governor.

“Everywhere we go roads are the thing,” said Mandela Barnes, candidate for lieutenant governor.

“I think we’re at a tipping point with roads. People have seen the impact of lack of investment,” said Kurt Kober, also running for lieutenant governor.

I could keep going. These candidates offer ideas that include re-indexing the gas tax and increasing fees.

Coming up with a transportation funding strategy requires leadership and compromise, however, and that’s been lacking in Madison. Wisconsin legislative leaders and the governor have continued to kick the can down the road.

They used to kick the can down the road in Indiana too, sidestepping agreement on dedicated road funding. But that changed in April 2017 after years of inaction.

What happened there should be of interest here, given that Republicans in charge of the House and Senate and the governor’s office agreed on a funding plan that would fuel years of road and bridge improvements in the Hoosier state.

The Indiana plan increased gas taxes by 10 cents per gallon, increased vehicle registration fees by $15 (with higher charges for electric and hybrid vehicle owners), and enacted various other user increases.

In all, the tax hikes and fee increases would raise an average of $915 million a year over the next seven years for state and local roadwork in Indiana.

“We’re not kicking the can down the road like they do in Washington,” said Indiana Senate President David Long at the time. “We’re paying for it today, responsibly and appropriately.

He might have been talking about Wisconsin too when it comes to road funding. Here, residents pay more for car repairs than drivers in virtually any other state.

I lived in Indiana at the time, and I can tell you that residents didn’t favor tax increases any more than you do. But six months after the April legislation was passed and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Ball State University Hoosier Survey found that 57 percent of participants approved of the gas tax increase.

By October 2017, residents had seen the road work intensify and had started to see improvements. They also may have known neighbors who secured road construction jobs.

When I moved to Wisconsin I immediately noticed the road neglect but I also noticed that the fee to get my Wisconsin license was lower than in neighboring states.

There’s a great opportunity to raise fees on users here. Just an idea offered from a new Kenosha resident.

To tell the complete story, the Indiana roads success model came about because a legislative champion, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, worked tirelessly on a data-driven approach to understanding the state’s road funding options. He worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle for years to gain consensus.

“Nobody does stuff alone, and we wouldn’t have gotten here if it weren’t for all the stakeholders who spent six years in boring meetings with me,” Soliday said as he received the Indiana Chamber of Commerce “Government Leader of the Year award in November 2017. “A lot of people compromised to get something done.”

Compromise and hard work must be on the agenda for the next Wisconsin governor and legislators when it comes to road funding. It won’t come easy, but kicking the can down the road should not be an option next year.