When the Wisconsin legislature voted to repeal gas tax indexing for inflation in 2005, they were voting for an important principle. If a tax in Wisconsin goes up, our representatives in the legislature should have to vote on it.
Regardless of how we might feel about the current state of the transportation fund, it was the right decision. We have the right of representation when it comes to taxation, a principle upon which this country was founded.
If our representatives in Madison failed to tax us properly to maintain the roads (an open question), it is not a solution to remove transportation funding from public debate. If the last election proved anything, we can have a debate in this state over the proper levels of road funding and the political process does work.
Gov. Scott Walker lost narrowly after opposing increases in transportation spending and taxation. His successor, Gov. Tony Evers, would like to raise the gas tax.
Republicans in the legislature are opposed to raising the gas tax, including many Republicans who actually supported a gas tax increase prior to the last election. Now Republicans would like to raise fees and borrowing to cover increased transportation costs.
Those are all debatable positions and here at RightWisconsin we have published articles from all sides of the transportation funding issue. We’re confident that the political process of the state budget will play out with some sort of compromise, even if that compromise leads to a renewed debate prior to the 2020 legislative elections.
That’s the way the process is supposed to work, even if it isn’t pretty or convenient to politicians.
Nearly hidden in the transportation budget passed by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is a provision that would allow the committee to implement a mileage-based fee on drivers by 2023. The decisions to create the fee, how it would implemented, and the amount of the fee would all be in the hands of the 16-member JFC instead of the full legislature and the governor.
There are legitimate privacy concerns as well as concerns about the cost of the mileage fee. But those pale in contrast to the very idea that the mileage fee could be implemented without the consent of the full legislature, and in turn the consent of the governed.
Clemenceau famously said that war was too important to be left to the generals. Well, transportation funding is too important to be left to a small group of legislators without the public having full representation on the issue.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has correctly pointed out that there is no non-partisan solution to redistricting. It’s a shame that while he is correct about the political process on that issue, his colleagues on the JFC seem to believe that representation on the issue of transportation taxation should be left to the committee appointments of Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) to shield the issue from politics.
Eric Bott, the executive director for Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, is exactly right to warn the legislature about the mileage provision.
“Allowing a large and controversial fee to be ushered into this state without proper oversight is a dangerous precedent to set for our democracy and the legislative process,” Bott said in a letter to the legislature. “This proposal must be eliminated from the state budget.”
When indexing to inflation of the gas tax was repealed, Gov. Jim Doyle told Wisconsin Public Radio that the responsibility now fell to the legislature to maintain the transportation fund.
“I think the Legislature is now itself on the hot spot, and that’s probably where they deserve to be,” Doyle said. “If they want to have those projects, and if the result is that they have to increase the gas tax, then they’re going to have to do it in straightforward way and take that vote.”
We’re now seeing the results of that decision with a political process with full representation debating the merits of tax increases, fee increases and borrowing. The taxpayers are owed that full discussion with full representation on the creation of the mileage fee, too.
If Republicans cannot understand the basic principle of no taxation without representation, they deserve to suffer at the ballot box in 2020.
If Evers decides to line-item veto parts of the state budget passed by legislative Republicans rather than veto the budget entirely, this should be an easy veto to make to embarrass the Republicans and stand up for the taxpayers.