July 7, 2017
The challenge by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos came Wednesday after more than 15 businesses and groups, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), opposed a Republican proposal that would impose a per-mile fee on heavy trucks, which cause more road damage than automobiles. The fee would be added by the legislature to the proposed 2017-19 state budget to raise an estimated $138 million a year to pay for road projects.
Late last week, five conservative GOP state senators said they opposed the truck fee as a way of raising more money to fill the state road fund’s $1 billion deficit. Their opposition all but sinks the plan. The Republican senators opposed to the truck fee are Steve Nass, of Whitewater, Frank Lasee, of De Pere, Chris Kapenga, of Delafield, Duey Stroebel, of Saukville, and Dave Craig, of the Town of Vernon.
The latest snag on transportation funding comes after several weeks of contentious exchanges and lack of legislative work on the proposed budget between majority Senate and Assembly Republicans on how to pay for road projects and maintenance. The Assembly GOP wants to raise state gasoline taxes or fees and reduce borrowing for roads. But Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Republicans favor borrowing and continued major road project delays because they oppose tax and vehicle registration fee increases.
The five senators and the special interest groups blasted the truck fee proposal as a tax increase or unfairly singling out one industry to pay for roads. But trucks cause the most damage to Wisconsin roads, Ben Jordan, director of the UW-Madison College of Engineering’s Transportation Information Center, told Wisconsin Public Radio.
WMC and the other special interest groups generate millions of dollars in outside election spending and campaign contributions, particularly to Republican legislative and statewide candidates.
WMC alone secretly raised and spent an estimated $18.6 million between January 2010 and December 2016 on outside electioneering activities to support Republican and conservative legislative and statewide candidates.
In addition, business, manufacturing, natural resources, tourism and trucking interests represented by other trade groups opposed to the truck fee contributed $6.2 million to Republican legislators between January 2010 and December 2016.