Tony Evers taps bipartisan task force to solve state’s transportation funding shortage

January 31, 2019 GMT

Gov. Tony Evers has named a bipartisan task force to tackle a problem that bedeviled state leaders two years ago and likely will again this year: the ongoing funding crunch for the state’s transportation network.

The 34-member group is meeting for the first time Thursday at the state Department of Transportation headquarters in Madison.

In his State of the State address last week, Evers said the task force will find a “bipartisan policy solution” to be included in his budget plan for the two-year cycle starting in July. Such a solution could include increasing gas taxes, hiking vehicle registration fees, collecting highway tolls or some combination of those.

The task force is a diverse mix of members from business, transportation, environmental, agricultural and local- and state-government backgrounds.

It includes five lawmakers: Sens. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon; Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green; and David Hansen, D-Green Bay; and Reps. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford; and Debra Kolste, D-Janesville. It also includes former Rep. Robb Kahl, D-Monona, now head of a construction industry trade group.

Local government officials include Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna.

Evers vowed during the 2018 campaign to find a long-term fix for funding roads, bridges and transit.

The state DOT has delayed or canceled a host of major freeway projects in recent years and increasingly turned to borrowing to pay for other projects. The department’s data also show state highway conditions will deteriorate badly in the next decade without an infusion of new revenue.

In 2017, a dispute between GOP leaders over road funding was the chief cause of a 10-week delay on completing the state’s current budget, which was finalized in September 2017 and runs through this June. It’s likely to be a sticking point again for the budget period that begins in July.

Some of the most fiscally conservative Republican lawmakers contend the funding shortage can be resolved by tightening spending. Some other Republicans and Democrats, including Evers, say more revenue likely is needed.

But potential moves to supply new revenue — especially a gas-tax hike — are unpopular with the public. The latest Marquette Law School Poll found 42 percent of registered voters favored increasing the gas tax to fund improvements to roads and highways, while 52 percent were opposed.