Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wisconsin gubernatorial candidates on transportation

One of the great things about election season is that candidates are compelled to take a stance on many issues of importance to voters. Transportation funding is one of the topics that Wisconsin voters are pressing the gubernatorial candidates on for possible solutions.

The Democratic candidate is Tom Barrett. The Republican nominee is Scott Walker.

A 2006 report from a bipartisan legislative panel documented almost $700 million in annual unmet needs on roads throughout the state. Funding for the state’s transportation system comes via fuel taxes and vehicle registrations. Since then, revenues have continued to dip as drivers change their habits and fuel-efficient vehicles are more commonplace.

To make matters worse, the state’s transportation fund has been robbed of $1.3 billion during the past eight years to benefit other programs.

Thankfully for Wisconsin taxpayers, the candidates agree this is a flawed setup. Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor, has called for the raids to stop.

Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, also said the road raids need to end. He has gone as far as calling for an amendment to the state constitution to prevent future governors from raiding the fund.

To boost funding, Walker has touted rerouting sales tax revenue from new vehicle purchases into the transportation fund. That money – estimated at $500 million a year – now goes for general use.

This seems like a sound plan. It’s high time that other budgets are forced to come up with their own money source instead of dipping into transportation-related revenue.

On his website, Barrett calls for “a balanced approach to transportation that invests in our roads, as well as public transportation initiatives that will help spur long-term economic growth.

He wants to increase passenger rail options. He says that the pursuit of taking commuters off roadways would result in less wear and tear on state roads, and lower maintenance costs.

One option that Walker said is worth further discussion to help get road work done is the creation of pay-only express lanes. He thinks it is worth considering charging drivers to use an added lane that would allow them to have a faster commute.

Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he opposes traditional tolls that would charge to use all lanes. He wants travelers to continue have the option to use highways without being charged.

Barrett’s campaign has stressed that the mayor is opposed to all tolls.

It is good to hear that both candidates are not interested in charging all highway users to pay for their drive. There doesn’t seem to be much harm in allowing travelers to pay for the privilege to access designated lanes.

But as lawmakers, and the next governor, scramble to come up with possible solutions to plug gaping holes in the transportation budget, it is vital that the state first take steps to ensure that the revenue already coming in is used for the intended purpose.