No wheel tax for Dane County | submitted by Eileen Bruskewitz

The wheel tax suggested by Progressive Dane supervisors on the Dane County Board has revenues from a tax on every car, truck, and motorcycle in Dane County going toward increasing the human services budget. The subtext is that if you don’t support a wheel tax, you are against helping the poor and needy.

At the same time, they say the wheel tax is a “user fee” because the owners of cars, trucks, and motorcycles don’t pay enough in county property tax, local municipal taxes, auto registration fees, and gasoline taxes to repair and maintain roads. These are the same folks who don’t want you to drive your car.

A wheel tax is a regressive tax hitting low-income households hardest, so those same Progressive supervisors suggest that the county should subsidize low-income households so they can pay this new tax. Who is low income and how is this subsidy to be paid?

This tax increase package will likely be introduced and voted on next week, yet there has been no meaningful discussion of this issue at any county committee and no discussion of putting this vote to the taxpayers. The rush to pass this through the Dane County Board may be the result of pending state legislation that would require a referendum on such schemes. If the Dane County wheel tax passes next week, then voters will have no say in the matter.

We don’t know what the fee will be and we don’t know if there will be any limitations on the amount that can be raised. Clearly, in other parts of the country, wheel taxes have increased significantly over time. Will any part of the fee be returned to the local cities, villages, and towns to use toward their repair or snowplowing budgets, or does the county keep the whole amount?

The wheel tax must be considered in the context of the 1/2-cent sales tax that was instituted in 1991. A memo from then Dane County Executive Rick Phelps stated, “When we passed the sales tax, we promised that we would be anticipating the cost of the jail, stabilizing the property tax rate, and at the same time, supporting the basic services that the county provides in other areas.”

Since 1991, the sales tax has brought in over $685 million. Property taxes have increased almost every year and we’ve borrowed many millions of dollars. Current outstanding debt is over $240 million and the county is poised to borrow another $20 million or more next year. We spend it all – we don’t have a rainy day fund or reserves.

The wheel tax could be $15 to $25 per vehicle. It is estimated to raise about $5 million annually. That is the equivalent to raising property taxes an additional 5%. Rushing through a wheel tax on top of a property tax increase of 4% (the county executive’s proposed budget) is unconscionable.

Eileen Bruskewitz is a Dane County supervisor.

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