Who Pays for Roads?

Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 2:24 AM by

Proponents of highway spending often argue that roads in Wisconsin “pay for themselves” and they complain that funding for roads has been shortchanged at times by the diversion of transportation user fees to the state general Fund. A short report issued this week by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin presents facts countering those arguments.

Using research by the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) at UW Madison, the new report – Who Pays for Roads in Wisconsin? – points out the following:

  • During the period 2004-2008, user revenue accounted for about $7.4 billion per year of state sand local spending for roads and highways, compared to $8.7 billion in state and local non-user revenue, $3.1 billion of federal funding, and $3 billion of borrowing.
  • In other words, the state and local user revenue was significantly less than the revenue generated within Wisconsin from non-user revenue sources.
  • Road and highway spending used an annual average of $779 per Wisconsin household of non-user revenue.

The 1000 Friends report argues that “roads constitute one of the biggest tax burdens around,” and concludes that “until we cut costs [for highways and roads] or raise fees, the big diversion is from taxpayers to roads, not the other way around.”

I haven’t studied the SSTI methodology, but hope to do so soon. It will be important to take a careful look at the facts about transportation system financing before the Legislature finishes up work on a proposed Constitutional amendment to prevent money from the state Transportation Fund from ever being transferred to the General Fund.

Jon Peacock

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