Allowing open-road tolling on Wisconsin’s Interstates is the only viable way to raise state money to match whatever federal funding could be coming for transportation, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told county officials Wednesday.
President Donald Trump last month called on Congress to approve a $1.5 trillion federal infrastructure plan that likely would require states to put up some money to receive the federal funds. Trump’s plan would rely on state and local governments working with private investors to come up with much of the cash.
Republican legislative leaders have long been supportive of tolling in Wisconsin and they reiterated that again Wednesday. Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that while he would be open to tolling if there’s a corresponding tax decrease, he’s “not in any way suggesting support” for it.
As with increasing the gas tax, Walker said he would only consider raising money from tolling if there is an equal or greater tax reduction elsewhere. And should Congress approve an infrastructure funding bill, Walker said he was confident the state could come up with whatever match is necessary, even without tolling or higher gas taxes.
Walker is facing re-election in the fall, and Democrats have seized on the deteriorating condition of Wisconsin roads.
Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Wednesday there was not enough support in the Senate to pass a gas tax increase or vehicle registration fee increases.
“The only way that we are going to be able to do this and the only way that makes sense is open road tolling,” Fitzgerald said.
Wisconsin would need federal approval to implement tolling. But Walker last year vetoed $2.5 million for a study into the possibility of tolling in the state. Walker said at the time of the veto that the state could move ahead with tolling without the study.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who appeared with Fitzgerald at the Wisconsin Counties Association event, has been a longtime backer of tolling as part of a way to raise money for roads in Wisconsin.
“We can all vote for tolling, it’s a good idea, it’s the future,” Vos said.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, also expressed support, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“If it’s open-road tolling I’m in,” he said.
As lawmakers considered last year how to fund road improvements a number of business interests opposed a move toward toll roads. They included the state’s largest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Representatives of the tourism, restaurant and hotel industries also expressed opposition.
A December 2016 Department of Transportation study said it would take four years to implement tolling after federal approval.
The up-front capital needed for Interstate tolling would be $400 million, the study said.
Wisconsin State Journal staff contributed to this report.