Protesters target GOP lame-duck session (copy)

Budget committee Co-chairs John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, unveiled details about the Republican transportation funding plan Thursday. 

The Republican leaders of the Wisconsin Legislature's budget committee unveiled a $483 million agreement on transportation funding, a proposal that they said includes increases in vehicle registration and title fees but no gas tax hike. 

The announcement came Thursday afternoon as members of the Joint Finance Committee were waiting to meet to vote on the proposal. 

The plan includes $393 million in additional revenue for transportation, the committee co-chairs told reporters, in addition to a $90 million one-time fund transfer, bringing the total to just over $483 million.

The plan would also include $326 million in bonding over the next two years, less than the $338 million in Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal. Co-chair John Nygren said the figure amounted to the lowest level since the 2001-03 budget. 

Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said the plan came about following feedback from voters in last fall's election cycle. 

“In general, we’re listening to our constituents, who all over the state said, ‘Fix the damn roads,’" she said, echoing Evers' comments Monday on the subject. "This was a very big message during the last elections because they feel like their roads are deteriorating and they wanted us to address (them).”

The funding includes a $95 title fee transfer increase and a $10 raise in automobile and light truck registration fees, Nygren said.

The committee is looking to consolidate the four different types of light truck registrations into one, he said, because many of those trucks are mis-registered. Instead of “targeting enforcement toward that, we’re going to collapse them into one,” the Marinette Republican said.

Evers’ budget proposal sought to generate $623.8 million in revenue over the biennium, with the bulk of it — $529.5 million — stemming from a gas tax hike and indexing the level to the consumer price index.

Democrats earlier Thursday said the gas tax was the fairest way to raise dollars for roads. 

Sen. Jon Erpenbach said raising fees rather than the gas tax "lets out-of-state drivers off the hook."

"They use our roads, they should help pay for our roads," the Middleton Dem and Joint Finance Committee member said. 

Under the governor's proposal, the state would raise the 32.9-cent gas tax by 8 cents a gallon. Evers also wanted to again index the tax to the consumer price index beginning in spring 2020. The gas tax was previously indexed to inflation, though the state put a stop to the practice in 2005.

Republican leaders previously signaled a gas tax increase wouldn't be part of the mix, and Nygren and Darling said Thursday a hike wasn't included in their plan.

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Their plan, like Evers', would also collect the hybrid and electric vehicle fee, which was included in the current state budget. The move would let the state collect some $10 million over the next two years.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, praised the plan Thursday night in a statement and said "additional reform measures" surrounding transportation would be introduced as well. 

Around two hours after Republicans formally announced the plan, GOP Sen. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, said he doesn't support it, slamming it as "a big loss for taxpayers."

He also lamented the lack of "accountability or reform measures" in it.

"These key factors are jeopardizing my support for the 2019-21 biennial budget," he said in a statement. 

Thursday's committee actions come after a group of Republican senators on Wednesday unveiled their plan to spend $134 million in one-time money for local road aids, a proposal Fitzgerald and Vos said should be looked at outside of the transportation budget.

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