Disagreements over how to pay for Wisconsin roads have caused the senate and assembly to miss the state budget's July 1st deadline. Lawmakers are trying to cover a billion dollar deficit in transportation funding. Friday, a heavy truck fee proposal meant to bridge the GOP's divide lost support in the senate. The transportation budget may be heavily relying on borrowing in the short term, and possibly looking to implement toll roads.
Assembly republicans have supported new taxes and fees to generate new revenue, while the senate has supported borrowing up to $850 million to tackle necessary projects.
The window of time to complete the budget is shrinking for legislators, and Wisconsin may end up with a short term solution. One long term solution many have been considering is using toll roads, which could generate millions in new revenue each year. However, that may cost up to $400 million to implement and 4 years to complete.
"So we won't be seeing that revenue immediately in this year or in two years from now," said State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. "For me, it really is a non-starter here in Western Wisconsin."
Shilling said she found only %13 of constituents surveyed supported the idea of toll roads.
Residents we spoke to were split.
"I don't think it's good for Northern Wisconsin and all the tourism industry, even the Wisconsin Dells," said Mike Meythaler, a La Crescent home-owner. "In Southern Wisconsin, we would not go to Illinois on the toll roads, unless we were just going to Chicago. We would take the back roads."
"I personally think that would be a good idea," said La Crosse resident Jill Graewin. "I think the roads need money and I think that's a good way to do it. I [would] hate to see the education cut into, but we're going to have to do something."
"With the iPass and stuff, it works really well, but if you have to stop and pay each time it gets to be kind of a hassle," said Western Tech student Samantha White.
The state would need federal approval before putting tolls on the roads. Governor Walker has said he was open to the idea, provided there was a reduction of the gas tax and only locating those tolls near the edges of Wisconsin. However, the latter of which is possibly not an option.
"I'm not sure if it's actually legal under the federal guidelines to only do it at the borders." said Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair John Nygren. "I also would say it might need to be a bit broader-based to deliver on the needs that we have in our state."
News 19 spoke to several out-of-state drivers at the French Island rest stop passing through on holiday, many of which have toll roads in their home states. The majority said they didn't mind those tolls, as long as they used the i-Pass system to help ease the flow of traffic.
The next time the senate and assembly will meet to discuss the budget will be after the holiday weekend.