The letter-writer’s proposed solution to the state’s road-funding problem was about as perfect a solution as you can get in today’s political environment.
I was chagrined not to have come up with it myself, and annoyed that lawmakers haven’t either.
With an audit last week showing road construction is even more expensive than we thought, Gov. Scott Walker’s political ambitions shouldn’t be enough to keep his party’s legislative leaders from growing spines and turning the proposal into reality.
In a Jan. 23 letter to the editor in the Wisconsin State Journal, John Roberts of Oregon writes that majority Republicans should get together with minority Democrats to pass some kind of sensible increase to the gas tax to pay for road construction.
The state needs more than $1 billion in additional funding per year to keep its road system from getting worse, according to a 2013 report. Without it, projections are that 40 percent to 50 percent of roads would be in poor condition by 2027. Last week, the Legislative Audit Bureau announced the state has for years been underestimating the cost of road projects.
The kicker, according to Roberts, is that the tax increase should, by design, draw veto-proof support, or two-thirds of the lawmakers present for the vote. Then Walker would be free to veto the increase, and the Legislature could override him.
That way Walker could keep his national political ambitions alive by saying he never acted to raise taxes, and the people who can’t wait for Walker to become president for their roads to get better can actually get better roads.
Moreover, although Roberts didn’t suggest this, “no” votes could be parceled out to Republican lawmakers likely to face serious challenges in the 2018 and 2020 elections. There shouldn’t be too many given how well — and unconstitutionally, a federal panel of judges has ruled — the GOP has gerrymandered state legislative districts to protect their own.
I ran Roberts’ idea past Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, who in a statement said: “Democrats would welcome the opportunity to have more input in the budget process. Protecting Wisconsin jobs, keeping construction projects on track and finding a long-term transportation funding solution have been Democratic priorities for years.”
Assembly Leader Robin Vos has called for considering gas tax and the vehicle registration fee increases to pay for roads. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hasn’t ruled them out. Neither responded to my requests for comment.
In road funding, state Republicans face a smaller version of the conundrum Donald Trump’s presidency poses for national Republicans.
So far, national Republicans are having to tamp down their usual preferences for free trade and fiscal responsibility so a Republican president can pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and build a multi-billion-dollar border wall. State Republicans are having to ignore their usual preference for personal motorized transport so a Republican governor doesn’t have to sign a tax increase.
At some point, you’d hope both groups would find the courage to go rogue and do what’s best for rest of us.