By Roger Utnehmer
Civil Discourse is an occasional attempt to restore civility to our civic discourse by DoorCountyDailyNews.com President and CEO Roger Utnehmer
Here’s a message for Governor Scott Walker and members of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Raise my taxes…and keep doing it every time the consumer price index goes up.
Well, just the gas tax.
Wisconsin faces a more than $1 billion transportation budget deficit. Roads and bridges throughout our state have outlived their design life. Construction projects are delayed and maintenance deferred. The public demands safe roads. Politicians love new highway construction as a reward for “bringing home the pork.”
The reality that 99.9% of the tourists who visit Door County get here on a highway means raising the state gas tax is important for our economy. The need to better fund transportation is irrefutable. More energy-efficient vehicles compounded by growth of hybrid and electric cars mean even less gas tax revenue in the future, exacerbating budget problems that are getting worse every year.
A gas tax increase is the fairest way to pay future bills. The more you drive, the more you pay. And rather than increase registration fees for residents, a gas tax increase will capture tourist dollars from those who do not register vehicles in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s gas tax was indexed to inflation from 1985 to 2005. The decision to end matching gas tax automatic annual increases to inflation got the transportation budget in the poor condition it is today. The result is that twenty-cents out of every dollar in transportation costs now pays interest on the debt incurred to make up for lost gas tax revenue and meet public demand for construction and maintenance.
Like a minimum wage pegged to the consumer price index, matching gas tax increases to inflation will mean an annual meager increase rather than an inevitable much larger one to solve the billion dollar deficit problem. Republican legislators who control Wisconsin government need to determine if they are “tax and borrow” legislators or “tax and spend” legislators who stop borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars a year for transportation.
Wisconsin’s gas tax, stuck at 30.9 cents a gallon since 2006, is above the national average but well below Pennsylvania’s 58.2 cents a gallon and well above Alaska’s 12.25 cents per gallon. There is room to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation without inflicting unreasonable economic hardship. It is a much better alternative to bonding and borrowing.
Do not blame your mayor, city council representative or county board supervisor for the poor conditions of streets, roads and highways.
The fault lies squarely on the “no tax increase” legislators who are borrowing us into future generations of debt. It’s time to end the freeze on automatic gas tax increases pegged to inflation and time for those who use Wisconsin roads to pay just a little more for every mile they drive.
That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.