For the first time in its history, the City of Janesville will be
charging vehicle owners an annual municipal wheel tax.
Coming on the heels of alarming shortfalls in state aid for local roads from Gov. Scott Walker, Janesville city government expects to raise about $550,000 annually from the new $10 tax to replace the lost revenue. Of course local taxpayers won't be seeing a corresponding tax cut from the state for receiving less state aid, that's a story for another time. But judging from a recent op-ed and comments made by officials of the local politically active pro-Walker business group, Forward Janesville, the I39/90 interstate expansion will likely cost taxpayers the loss of even more money in local road state aid.
In an op-ed titled, Don't shift road money to repair local streets, the vice-president of Forward Janesville and head of the I39/90 Expansion lobby, Dan Cunningham, strongly disagrees with Mayor Tom Barrett for suggesting that the state spend road money within its means. That's right.
According to the story, Barrett would like to see the state rededicate road funds back to local communities to help restore the balance of existing road repair and rehabilitation costs.
Barrett it seems, wants the state to fix what it has before it spends money on expanding roads it can't afford to maintain. You know, spend within our means AND spend to stay within our means. I know, that sounds crazy responsible. But Cunningham apparently sees Barrett's position as a serious threat to the funding source for their billion dollar interstate plaything because it appears that the state's road funds are operating in a zero-sum environment. It's either there's enough revenue to maintain what we have or enough to build new highways - but not enough for both.
Cunningham's argument means this is really bad news for Janesville taxpayers because the city has fallen behind on its own street repair and has begun borrowing for street repairs.
In a recent story, city officials have warned that the city is doing less and less in street maintenance during a time when costs are escalating while the city has twice as many streets to maintain than it did 20 years ago. Throw in Walker's cuts in state aid and you have the perfect storm for a tornado of local tax hikes.
That certainly played a big part of the reason for Janesville to institute the new $10 annual wheel tax, but that now appears only to force the door open just a crack for what lays ahead next. Janesville city officials have recommended that the city rehabilitates at least 15 miles of street a year just to keep pace. With the loss in state aid and the volatile cost of oil and asphalt, that means the city will have to look for an extra $3 million minimum just so streets do not fall into disrepair. Each $10 in wheel tax provides for about $550,000 and Janesville is already starting out at about $1.3 million a year in the hole, so an additional $3 million could conceivably pop the annual wheel tax to $70 or $80.
With Walker's budget, the only alternatives are either a wave of local road tax referendums, hikes in levies or wheel taxes. The interstate expansion ramps up the tax hikes yet another notch, while Barrett's proposal restores fiscal sanity. Barrett knows it and Forward Janesville's Cunningham knows it, otherwise there would have been no reason for Cunningham's response op-ed.
Jobs really aren't the issue here either since a billion dollars in local road repair and rehabilitation will create just as many jobs for the state of Wisconsin as the billion dollar interstate expansion would.
You need a tax hike to repair local roads? That's your tough luck, but Forward Janesville will support that tax hike too. FJ doesn't care so long as their business membership picks up the prized interstate expansion plum. And, according to this blog posting in the Janesville Gazette, FJ sounds the alarm by taking sides in the recall election ...
JG Editor's Blog Excerpt:
“I have yet another reason to stay up to date on the gubernatorial recall situation. Should Tom Barrett win the primary and defeat Gov. Walker, the DOT’s Majors Fund—the state funding source for the 39/90 project—could be in serious jeopardy, as Barrett has publicly stated his desire to rededicate a chunk of this fund to local street maintenance.
The battle lines are being drawn.
NOTE: The DOT will have a series of public meetings on the project. The first is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. April 24 at the Edgerton Public Library.