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Referendum would save transportation fund

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Jason Smathers
August 25, 2010
— Come November, Rock County voters could tell the state Legislature and governor to keep their hands out of transportation funds.

The Rock County Board Staff Committee approved a resolution Tuesday that would add an advisory referendum to November's ballot on whether Wisconsin should prohibit the Legislature from moving money out of the segregated transportation fund. The fund is comprised of fuel tax revenue and license registration fees.


The referendum would have no binding effect but would advise the state government to amend the state Constitution to protect the fund.


Assistant County Administrator Phil Boutwell said the measure appeals to counties and municipalities throughout Wisconsin because of their reliance on general transportation aid for the state. When the state takes money out of the transportation fund and shifts it to other programs or projects, there's less money for local road maintenance and projects for municipalities, Boutwell said.


The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that $1.2 billion was shifted from the fund in the last decade. That money was replaced with $800 million in general obligation bonds.


The issue is especially relevant to Rock County, given the planned expansion of Interstate 90/39. While federal funding is estimated to cover 40 to 50 percent of the $1 billion project, the rest would come from the state transportation fund.


The Finding Forward Coalition, an advocacy group comprised of transportation, business and municipal interest groups, has been pushing the ballot measure in counties across the state. So far, 47 of Wisconsin's 72 counties have put the advisory referendum on the ballot. A similar referendum is being considered in Walworth County.


While the Staff Committee approved the resolution unanimously, County Board Chair Russ Podzilni did note that closing off the fund could lead legislators to raid other designated revenue streams.


With its approval from the Public Works Committee and the Staff Committee, the referendum will go to the County Board on Sept. 9.



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