Wisconsin $680M short for transportation fund

Wisconsin’s Transportation Fund is projected to be $680 million in the hole next year.

On Tuesday voters overwhelmingly said yes to changing the state’s Constitution to say money from that fund can only be used for transportation needs.

From 2003 to 2011 state lawmakers took $1.4 billion from Wisconsin’s Transportation Fund. That money was put toward things like education and health care. 

Tuesday’s 80-20 vote tells lawmakers voters want to see work done on our roadways. Now the task of digging out of that financial hole begins.

“The problem that many people saw, and that I hear from a lot of people, is that we have aging infrastructure with transportation,” 95th Assembly District state Rep. Jill Billings said.

Just like voters, Billings and 94th Assembly District state Rep. Steve Doyle know Wisconsin roads are in need of repair.

“It definitely is on the forefront of everyone’s view of what we have to address this session,” Billings said.

Eighty-five percent of the money for the highway fund comes from our gas tax and vehicle registration. Even though all money will now stay in the Transportation Fund those two main sources of revenue are declining.

“With vehicles getting more fuel efficient and the gas tax being frozen, there is less money coming in there, people are driving fewer miles and so we can’t just rely on the old way of doing things,” Doyle said.

Now state lawmakers are being forced to find another source of funding.

“There’s not really a consensus unfortunately. People don’t want to have tolls, they don’t want to raise the gas tax, they don’t want to raise registration fees, but we’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” Doyle said.

“We cannot build our way out of the situation we have with our transportation system,” Billings said.

“The problem is that there is a shortage of funds and a lack of consensus on how we solve the problem. And until we get that consensus I don’t know what the answer is in terms of when the Transportation Fund will be flush again,” Doyle said.

Doyle hopes the state will take advantage of federal dollars being offered by the U.S. government. He said the Federal Funds Exchange Program gives money to the state, which then disperses that money to local governments to help with local transportation needs.

Doyle expects that after Jan. 1 Gov. Scott Walker will put forward his budget proposal addressing the $680 million shortfall.