TO: Members of the Assembly Committee on Rules
SUBJECT: Please Oppose AB 210 (local sales and use tax for maintenance of streets and highways)
January 7, 2016
We are writing to respectfully ask you to reject Assembly Bill 210, relating to an additional local sales and use tax for maintenance of streets and highways. We thank you for recognizing the need to address Wisconsin’s local infrastructure crisis but do not believe that the remedies offered by AB210 are the most effective way to do so. AB 210 would add to ordinary Wisconsinites’ tax burden, while unfairly shifting the responsibility of critical infrastructure maintenance to local government.
There is no doubt that Wisconsin’s roads, particularly at the local level, are in urgent need of repair. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, 38 percent of the state’s local roads need repair or reconstruction. This deterioration of local infrastructure correlates to a drop in state assistance to municipal and county governments over the past decade and a half — under Democratic and Republican leadership: Between 1998 and 2013, local road and bridge assistance declined by close to 30 percent according to WISDOT transportation budget trends.
Instead of creating a new tax to address the growing local infrastructure crisis, we encourage you to find ways to more efficiently use existing transportation funds, and to eliminate wasteful projects wherever possible. The ongoing audit of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which will conclude at the end of 2016, offers an excellent opportunity to identify such efficiencies.
In October, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee unanimously commissioned an audit of WISDOT’s State Highway Program, with legislators of both parties citing serious concerns about the Department’s major highway planning process. In particular, legislators pointed to WISDOT’s inaccurate traffic projections, which have been used to justify billions of dollars worth of highway expansion projects and new construction over the last two decades when more cost-effective, non-expansion highway repair and reconstruction options may have better served Wisconsin taxpayers. Overinvestment in costly, potentially unnecessary highway expansion projects — spending on which increased by 50 percent between 1998 and 2013 — has left the state with fewer resources to meet critical local infrastructure needs.
We urge you to reject any new transportation taxes until the conclusion of this crucial audit, which could identify ways to use existing transportation revenues more efficiently and thereby preclude the need to increase the tax burden on ordinary Wisconsinites.
Thank you for your commitment to finding effective, long-term solutions to Wisconsin’s local transportation infrastructure crisis. Please oppose AB 210.
Peter Skopec, Director, Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group
Steve Hiniker, Executive Director, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin
Elizabeth Ward, Conservation Programs Coordinator, Sierra Club- John Muir Chapter