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Transportation Funding in Wisoconsin

I Don’t Have All The Answers

I am not a worrier.  Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I am pretty much a “go with the flow” kind of person.  But I haven’t always been this way.  I consider myself to be a recovering perfectionist and I’m pretty sure my dad, siblings and husband would agree with that assessment. 
Although I’m not a worrier, I am concerned about something.  I’m concerned about future funding for our transportation program.  First, I don’t want anyone to think AddLIFE Transit, our popular program is going away.  AddLIFE Transit is very strong and doing well thanks to the many people who use it every day.  

What concerns me is the fact that the funding for it comes from registration fees (which haven’t been raised since 2008) and the fuel tax (which has not been increased in 10 years).  Granted, our program is a very small part of that pot of money, but we have a problem.  This pot of money is used for several other very important programs and projects.  In fact, it helps fund the state’s entire transportation infrastructure…roads, rails, airports, harbors, bicycle, pedestrian, mass transit, etc…if it’s involved in moving people or goods, it probably is funded in part with the fuel tax and registration fees.

Basically, unless the state continues to borrow money (with interest fees affecting current and future budgets), this is a finite pot of money.  If OUR program gets more money, then there is less money to fix the roads. Less money for public transit, and less money for every other form of transportation in the state.  And it works the other way…more money for one of these important projects, means less money for our program.
I’ve told you that I’m concerned but I’ve also told you that our transportation program is doing fine…so what’s the problem? 
The problem is simple…no new money and a population that is aging fast.  Here’s a few facts that might shed more light on the bigger issue…
20% of Barron County is age 65 or better and in less than ten years it will be at least 25%.
One in five people over the age of 65 does not drive.
Men outlive their ability to drive by 6 years and women by 10 years.
People who quit driving are at greater risk of social isolation.  
Social isolation increases the risk of dementia, deteriorating health and depression. 

Whether it’s for ourselves or those we love, we should all be concerned.  We need to have a transportation system that continues to meet the needs of a growing number of older adults.  In addition, we need to make sure there is sufficient funding to keep our roads in good repair.  Roads that are well maintained cause less wear and tear on vehicles, both personal and those we use in AddLIFE Transit.  

Many ideas have been proposed as long-term solutions to funding the transportation system.  Increasing fuel tax, raising registration fees, creating tolls, and/or enacting a local sales tax are the primary ones being discussed.

In 2013, the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, appointed by the Governor and Legislature clearly found that if Wisconsin does not adjust its user fees, the condition of both our state and local roads and transit systems will deteriorate significantly over the next decade. (Keep Wisconsin Moving-Smart Investments Measurable Results).

Nobody wants to pay more in taxes, myself included, but this might be an example of how we can actually save money by spending money.  
My daughter gets about 25 miles to the gallon on her car.  She puts about 15,000 miles on her car every year.  That means she uses 600 gallons of fuel per year.  For every cent in fuel tax increase, she would pay $6 more PER YEAR!  Even a 10¢ increase would result in only $60 more per year or $5 more per month. 

When roads are in poor shape, tires wear faster and fuel mileage decreases.  If she hits a few potholes, a front-end alignment is probably going to be needed.  I have no idea if poor roads are likely to have more stones that can crack windshields or wear on the undercarriage of your car.  All I know is that tires, alignments, windshields, lower mpg and even more car washes, all cost money.  And those things add up fast.  

According to my husband, this is a much better example of spending money to save money.  Apparently, my usual “I saved money buying these sandals because they were on sale” is not!  As a business owner, his conceding to this argument about the fuel tax is truly monumental.
Examples on how raising registration fees, creating tolls, or enacting local sales tax affect individuals could also be done.  I just did the fuel tax because it was the easiest one for me to visualize.  Plus, I’m not sure if tolling and local sales tax would go into the funding for our AddLIFE Transit, or if that would be strictly for roads.  

I think we can all agree that we need to have transportation services available to help people who can no longer drive.  They need to get groceries, go to the bank, get to medical appointments and the pharmacy, even get a haircut or  just get out of the house.  At the ADRC we talk to families everyday who want to help, but they don’t live close or in many cases, it involves taking time off from work and that costs money to the person and the employer. 

I am a taxpayer AND as the director of the ADRC, a steward of taxpayer dollars. Our agency and the many services we offer are entirely dependent upon doing this, and doing it well.  All of these programs are intricately connected to our transportation infrastructure.  And equally important every single person we serve and all of our readers as well!  Those groceries?  Your purchase from Amazon?  That new pair of shoes?  Everything we buy, every place we go, our mail, our healthcare…all require a strong transportation infrastructure.
We can argue over how to achieve it, but the fact remains that the longer we argue and delay, the more it will cost, either through inflation or additional borrowing.  Our AddLIFE Transit program is such a small part of the state transportation budget, but I can’t in good conscience advocate for more funding without advocating for the entire transportation infrastructure.  Otherwise, it becomes a rob Peter to pay Paul type of fix, and that doesn’t really fix anything.  

I understand the desire to make sure our current system is lean.  As the Director, I have that responsibility to you and I take it very seriously.  I also understand that we need to have that done on a state level, but this is a continual process and there will always be room for improvement.  I also don’t know when we reach the point of no returns on spending taxpayer dollars to determine whether taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.  I’m not being sarcastic here…I honestly wonder about that.  

Regardless of whether you agree with my thoughts, you should let your representatives know what you think.  They need to know where you stand so these tough decisions can be made.  You can find a link to contact information about your local representatives here.  As always, you can always give me a call to chat about this or other issues affecting the programs and services provided by the ADRC. I can be reached at 715-537-6225.