Raising taxes not the way to close transportation funding gap

Whether we’re gathering up the kids to visit family for the holidays or just driving to work in the morning, we all rely on our system of roads and bridges.

As you may have already heard, the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission suggested that Wisconsin increase its spending on transportation by $480 million a year for 10 years to keep up the quality of the roads and maintain our bridges. How will this all be paid for? With $6.8 billion in new revenue (taxes and fees) over the next 10 years?

The commission has recommended five main ways to fund the spending increase:

  1. Raising the state gas tax by 5 cents per gallon from 32.9 to 37.9 cents. Wisconsin already has the 14th-highest gas tax. With a 5-cent increase, we would be the eighth highest in the country.
  2. Creating a new mileage-based registration fee for passenger vehicles (about 1 cent per mile).
  3. Increasing heavy-truck registration fees by 73%.
  4. Increasing the fee for the state’s eight-year driver’s license by $20, from $34 to $54.
  5. Eliminating the sales tax exemption on the trade-in value of vehicles.

This is what the Wisconsin Department of Transportation had to say about the proposal:

If all of these recommendations were made law, the average driver could expect his or her expenses to go up by $120 a year. To many families in Wisconsin, that is a lot of money – money they don’t have.

Gas taxes seem to be the main target for revenue. This is not the first, and probably will not be the last time a hike in the gas tax will be proposed.

In fact, when I was first elected to the State Assembly in 1994, the Legislature was debating the same thing – raising the gas tax.

Our state does face challenges for funding our future transportation projects. As cars get more fuel efficient, people buy less gas, which is great for them. As a result, the state collects less money for our roads and bridges.

Another thing some people don’t realize is that the asphalt used on their roads is largely made from crude oil. As oil prices continue to increase, it means that the asphalt costs more money.

Instead of raising fees and taxes, maybe we could just raid some other parts of the budget to pay for transportation! Oh wait, the Doyle administration DID that and it’s part of the reason why our state is short on money for our roads and bridges in the first place.

As a way to protect against raids like this happening in the future, the Legislature has begun the work to amend our constitution so the money paid into the transportation fund by our gas taxes and vehicle registration fees STAYS in the transportation fund. This is good policy, and that is why I am listed as a cosponsor on legislation that will make this a reality.


Thankfully, the commission’s suggestions are just that – suggestions. For any of these changes to go into effect, they have to be approved by the Legislature and the governor.

A pessimist will see the challenges in every opportunity; an optimist will see the opportunities in every challenge.

Instead of immediately looking to raise taxes and fees on drivers so we can spend more, we should look for savings and ways to use existing money while still making sure that we provide safe, reliable, and efficient transportation. I am against raising taxes on gasoline and any substantial increase in fees.

In the end, we will probably take more of the money that is collected from taxes on cars and car parts and put it in the transportation fund instead of the state’s general revenue fund (the state’s checkbook money). We owe it to our hardworking taxpayers to make sure that their dollars go as far as they possibly can.

Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) represents Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District. He can be contacted at Sen.Lasee@legis.wisconsin.gov or 608-266-3512.