Senate Republicans pitch $133.6 million plan for county, town roads

Counties and towns would see a one-time boost of state aid for road work under a $133.6 million package 10 Senate Republicans released Wednesday.

The plan — backed by all six caucus members of the Joint Finance Committee — would give each county $1 million and each town $1,000 per mile of road in its jurisdiction. The latter would total $61.6 million.

The proposal comes a day before JFC is scheduled to vote on the transportation piece of the budget as it works toward wrapping up its work on the document next week.

It would use a piece of the additional $753 million in revenue the state is now expected to take in through mid-2021. Much of that is expected to be one-time money as taxpayers take advantage of the 2017 rewrite of federal tax laws, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

“We want to use this one-time money to make a difference in the one thing all of our constituents have told us they want, to fix our roads,” said Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green.

Wednesday’s news conference included half of the 19 Senate Republicans, and Marklein said the proposal represented the position of the 10 who were present, not the full caucus. Still, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who didn’t attend the news conference, called it a “laudable idea” to use one-time money.

Backers also said they didn’t have an agreement on the proposal with Assembly Republicans.

“We’re going to sit down, and we’re going to negotiate an agreement,” said Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst and a member of Finance.

JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, said he was open to the idea. But he stressed it was something that would be considered as a one-time use of surplus funds, not something to build into the transportation budget.

Marklein said the plan would distribute funds directly to counties and towns, and he defended providing equal funding for all counties, regardless of size or population, saying smaller ones are at a disadvantage in the current funding system.

“They’ve been falling behind for a long time,” Marklein said. “I believe this is a way for them to catch up and level the playing field a little bit.”

But Jerry Deschane, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, was critical of the plan for not include cities and villages, which are home to 70 percent of the state’s population.

“We support the idea of investing in roads,” Deschane said. “This is not a holistic solution by any means.”