On transportation fund, public gets it even if pundits don’t

Talk about misreading the outcome of an election. When it comes to the constitutional amendment to segregate the transportation fund, many of the state’s pundits have been so far off the mark it’s laughable. On Election Day, 80% of Wisconsin voters, more than 1.7 million people, voted to amend the constitution so that the transportation user fees we pay have to be spent on maintaining and improving the transportation system.

Let me say that again: 80%. Other than asking if the Packers are your favorite NFL team, there’s likely no other issue that could have garnered that kind of agreement in the Badger State.

So what kind of media analysis has followed this clearest of mandates? Snarky, cynical, and I guess pithy remarks such as “a bonanza for the roadbuilders” or “they are now the first special-interest group in Wisconsin to have their own constitutional amendment. We will soon find out if it’s possible to pave over an entire state.”

Really? That’s the analysis? Gee, I can’t figure out why the public is a bit jaundiced.

This amendment doesn’t give the companies that have the audacity to design, engineer, and build roads and bridges in this state one penny. The Legislature and governor still decide, if I’m not mistaken, where to set those taxes and fees. It’s also their job to determine funding priorities within the transportation fund. All this amendment did was ensure that the transportation user fees we do pay will … wait for it … wait for it … actually be spent on transportation. The nerve!

Our vehicle registration fee is currently $75 a year for most of us. That didn’t change as a result of this amendment. The Legislature and governor could make that $1 a year or $1,000. All this did was stipulate that wherever it’s set, the proceeds will go to maintain and improve our transportation system.

This “analysis” also misses the fact that Wisconsin has a multimodal transportation fund. That’s why the Wisconsin Airport Management Association, the Wisconsin Ports Association, and the Wisconsin Urban and Rural Transit Association were all part of a coalition that pushed for this change.

Do any of these pundits even remember how the drive for this amendment got rolling? County governments across the state took the bull by the horns and placed advisory questions before the voters in 2010. Fifty-four counties asked if we should amend the state constitution to require these funds be used for their intended purpose. Another 11 counties passed resolutions in support. Voters back then sent a clear message that they wanted this protection. Legislators listened.



Over the course of four years, public hearings were held. Gads of groups and individuals registered and testified in support. Not one group registered or testified in opposition. In overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, Legislators passed a joint resolution in two consecutive sessions to place the question on the statewide ballot. And finally, the voters spoke.

The arrogance of calling this vote a giveaway to a special interest group is stunning. Even if we want to frame every proposal or vote on behalf of our elected officials as a quid pro quo for donations, what about the voting public? Don’t they deserve more respect?

I would hate to see how major events in our nation’s history would have been covered by some of today’s media. “Aerospace industry fleeces taxpayers as Neil Armstrong struts on the moon” or “President Lincoln provides railroad tycoons early birthday present.”

This was about transparency and credibility in government. The voters of this state clearly understood that, even if some of our pundits still do not.

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