Truck fee

Five Republican state senators said Friday they oppose an Assembly Republican concept to implement a tax or fee on heavy trucks for the miles they drive in Wisconsin, causing Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to say the idea likely is doomed.

TED S. WARREN — Associated Press

Five Republican state senators said Friday they oppose an Assembly Republican idea to tax heavy trucks for miles driven in Wisconsin, causing Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to say the idea likely is doomed.

“It’s obviously a heavy lift if you’ve got that many members saying they won’t support the concept,” Fitzgerald said.

GOP senators “kind of shot it down” in a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday, added Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. The meeting came hours after, according to Fitzgerald, he discussed the heavy truck fee in budget talks with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Gov. Scott Walker.

Vos and Assembly Republicans have said the proposal, which would involve a new per-mile tax on big trucks, could end the impasse over the state’s next two-year budget, the deadline for enactment of which is Saturday.

State spending continues at current levels if the budget isn’t passed on time, though a protracted stalemate could begin to have an impact on road projects because they rely heavily on borrowing.

Spokespersons for Vos and Walker did not respond to Friday’s developments.

Assembly Republicans contend the state needs more revenue for road projects so it won’t need to delay projects or continue to borrow to pay for them.

The five senators opposing the truck fee disagree; they are Dave Craig, R-Town of Vernon, Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville.

In the statement, the senators blasted Walker’s Wisconsin Department of Transportation, saying it “has been inefficient and does not deserve new revenues.”

“Instead of getting creative to find new ways to tax Wisconsinites, we should be discussing the reforms needed to clean up an agency with a record of over-designing, over-building, and over-paying for our roads,” the senators said.

The senators account for five of Republicans’ 20-13 Senate majority. Democrats will be tough sells to vote for a GOP-crafted budget, meaning Republicans likely need at least 17 senators to support it.

Fitzgerald and Walker support borrowing — Fitzgerald $850 million and Walker $500 million — to avoid delays to ongoing highway projects. Assembly Republicans have said it’s irresponsible to further tax the state’s credit card.

Legislative leaders also have discussed highway tolling as a potential transportation revenue source. Even if lawmakers approved it and secured federal approval to start tolling Wisconsin’s U.S. Interstates, they likely wouldn’t be collected for at least four years — meaning that revenue wouldn’t have an impact in the next two-year state budget.

Vos earlier this week said a truck fee could be collected on a temporary basis, bridging the gap between when tolling revenues could begin to be collected.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.