Our Views: Gov. Walker, where's the leadership?
In speaking out against an Assembly GOP plan to fund road projects, Gov. Scott Walker made clear last week he has little interest in finding common ground on infrastructure issues.
The most frustrating aspect of Walker's opposition is the Assembly GOP plan is arguably too stingy, especially when viewed in the context of what other GOP-led state governments are doing for their infrastructure. As we noted in a previous editorial, the Indiana Legislature voted last month to raise taxes and fees to generate as much as $1.2 billion annually for roadways. The Assembly GOP plan falls far short of Indiana's mark.
But in the Assembly's defense, it faces a veto threat from Walker, who remains stubbornly attached to a no-new-taxes pledge. He seems to believe he's locked himself into a promise and any deviation would lead to a taxpayer revolt.
What Walker doesn't seem to understand is GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin and across the nation have come to view crumbling roadways as detrimental to economic development.
The Assembly GOP has been trying to dance around Walker's objections, and its latest proposal is a clever attempt. But there seems to be no satisfying Walker, who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the plan amounted to a tax increase of more than $400 million over two years.
Our response to Walker is: So what? As long as that new revenue goes toward improving the state's roadways, the Assembly GOP plan deserves serious consideration.
Walker has been steering the state in the wrong direction on roads for years. The question shouldn't be whether taxes and fees must be raised to improve the state's infrastructure. The question should be by how much must revenues be raised.
Lawmakers should consider this point: In 10 or 15 years, as states such as Indiana pump billions of dollars in new roadways, will companies bypass Wisconsin because its lawmakers didn't have the common sense to recognize the importance of maintaining quality roadways?
Some aspects of the Assembly GOP plan are on the right track. It is proposing to link some revenue for roadways to a sales tax on gasoline sales. One of the problems with the current gas tax is it fails to adjust to inflation. By introducing a sales tax—an amount determined by a percentage—revenue would be allowed to rise with inflation, presuming gas prices increase over time.
Admittedly, the expectation of gas prices rising is a big “if” because of oil supply gluts and technological advances in hybrid and electric cars. If gas prices were to remain flat or fall, this plan would provide no help.
A redeeming quality of the GOP Assembly plan is its inclusion of fees for hybrid and electric vehicles as a way to make up some of the lost gas tax revenue from vehicles that don't burn gas.
Finally, the Assembly plan takes the long-overdue step of further exploring toll roads. Tolls act as user fees, and electric and hybrid vehicles cannot avoid paying tolls like they can the gas tax. Tolling is a proven method for generating revenue and certainly should become a central part of road budget deliberations.
The Assembly GOP plan isn't as ambitious as it should be, but it proposes multiple options for addressing the state's infrastructure challenges, and Walker's initial reaction to it was unfortunate. We encourage the Legislature to move forward with its proposal, even if that means leaving Walker behind at a wayside.