Thursday, January 5, 2012

Get Ready For New Wisconsin Road Taxes, Fees, And/Or Tolls

The groundwork for more highway spending financed through new tolls, fees and/or higher fuel taxes is being laid down in Madison by a state transportation planning commission stacked in the highway crowd's favor.

And while we'll get a look at the commission's thinking at a public hearing in Madison on Thursday, January 12th - - and we'd be thrilled to see a commitment to spending restraints, a "fix-it-first" agenda and an equal footing for passenger rail transit, too - -  the predominance of commission members with ties to our highway-happy culture - - broadly defined - - suggests that Big Government is working on methods to collect more money from motorists and ramp up the road-building.

Let's start with an innocuous news release that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation issued last year about the commission. Pay attention to the minimal biographical information about the members.

Members named to Transportation Finance and Policy Commission

October 6, 2011
The members of the Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance and Policy have been named. The commission was created by the Legislature as part of the 2011-13 biennial budget and charged with examining issues related to the future of transportation finance and policy in the state.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb will serve as a non-voting member. Governor Scott Walker and legislative leaders appointed the 10 voting members.

The appointments made by Governor Walker include Tripp Ahern, Fond du Lac; Tom Carlsen, Verona; Barbara Fleisner, Wausau; Robb Kahl, Madison; Craig Thompson, Madison; and Tom Vandenberg, Green Bay.

Senator Scott Fitzgerald appointed Robert Cook, Madison. Senator Mark Miller appointed Dave Cieslewicz, Madison.

Representative Jeff Fitzgerald appointed Martin Hanson, Eau Claire.
Representative Peter Barca appointed John Antaramian, Kenosha.

The first meeting of the commission will be held October 25, 2011. The commission must deliver a report to the Governor and legislative leadership by March 1, 2013. For more information, contact:
Peg Schmitt, Office of Public Affairs (608) 266-7744,
But is there more?

The Wisconsin County Highway Association November/December 2011 "Informer" Newsletter (find it on the web in pdf format) fleshed out the commission appointees' biographies - - which the Wisconsin DOT could have done, but didn't - - and we begin to see the concentration of highway interests and connections on the committee:
    Tripp Ahern, CEO of J.F. Ahern Co.     Tom Carlsen, former Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary     Barbara Fleisner, Centergy Executive Director     Robb Kahl, Construction Business Group Executive Director and former Mayor of Monona     Craig Thompson, TDA Executive Director     Tom Vandenberg, General Counsel at Schneider National     Bob Cook, Vice President of Government Relations at HNTB     Dave Cieslewicz, former Mayor of Madison     Martin Hanson, Vice President at Ayres Associates     John Antaramian, former Mayor of Kenosha 
This still doesn't give us the full picture, but Google helped locate plenty of commission members' connections to private sector highway construction, to big project spending and to support for increased taxes, new fees and/or first-ever tolls to keep the highway-building machine running:

*  Commissioner Member Tom Carlsen is a former WisDOT Secretary. Carlsen in 2010 supported  increases in gas taxes and introduction of toll roads in Wisconsin.
Carlsen, DOT Secretary under former Gov. Scott McCallum, said while the gas tax mechanism for funding transportation is "antiquated," it needs to go up. "I think we need to raise the gas tax," he said in his keynote address, arguing it would be better than excessive transportation borrowing. 

But, he added, "automatic tolling should come some day ... not soon enough."
Three commission members have current or past ties to a major coalition - - the Transportation Development Association, or TDA - - which has long promoted highway building (and, in fairness, transit, rail and shipping systems) and supports moving to a miles-driven fee collection to replace the current system as fuel-efficient vehicles produce less gas tax revenues:
*  Commissioner Craig Thompson is the current TDA Executive Director and is on record supporting an increase in fuel taxes, too.
*  Commissioner Barbara Fleisner, the Executive Director of a Wausau-based economic development ccorporation, is also Secretary of the TDA. (See Boards and Committees' tab)
*  Commissioner Bob Cook was formerly TDA Executive Director and voted as a member of the Southeastern Wisconsin's Regional Planning Commission's advisory committee - - though he lived outside of the region, in Madison - - in favor of the $6.4 billion Southeastern Wisconsin Regional (Highways-only) Freeway Project.
Its first segment, the Marquette Interchange, was completed in 2008; the next segment, a $1.9 billion I-94 North/South rebuilding and widening between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line, is underway.
Cook is currently a Vice-President for Government Affairs at HNTB, a leading transportation projects contractor (rail included) and road-builder in Wisconsin, and he has supported "indexing" - -  the automatic, annual April gas tax increase - - which was eliminated a few years ago. (When at the TDA, Cook was so strongly in favor of the automatic annual increase that he once attacked Scott Walker for opposing it.)
HNTB was co-lead contractor on the Marquette Interchange project and has a piece of the I-94 North/South work.
And note that former WisDOT Secretary Carlsen had once headed-up HNTB's Wisconsin operations, and had approved one no-bid contract for a Marquette Interchange project operation.
*  Commissioner Martin Hanson is a Vice-President at Ayres Associates, which is described as project consultant on a current, $15-20 million WisDOT bridge replacement between Superior and Duluth, among its multiple activities,

Ayres Associates was also one of four consultants on a nine-year, $306 million highway expansion in the Wausau area.

*  Commissioner Tom Kahl,  Executive Director of the Construction Business Group, took an advocacy position in favor of a controversial Walker budget policy change that helped private contractors by forbidding county governments from carrying out some road projects.

Add in Tom Vandenberg, General Counsel at Schneider National, the Green Bay-based trucking giant, and you've got seven of ten members named to the commission by Gov. Walker, or the Fitzgerald brothers who work for, with, or close to status-quo-driven, private sector highway-industry interests.

Democratic legislative leaders were allowed to make two nominations. They are former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, of Madison, and fJohn Antaramian, former Mayor of Kenosha.

So don't be surprised if at the hearing in Madison in the 12th, you hear some members call for taxes, fees and tolls for Priority #1 - - new roads and more lanes.
[Preliminary meeting information for the Thursday, Jan. 12 session:
Thursday, January 12, 2012 Madison, Wisconsin 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Full-day commission meeting with evening public listening session)]


Anonymous said...


Dave Reid said...

A couple of things HNTB is also involved in projects such as the Streetcar so I'm not sure that makes them 100% road builder:) And I'd add that the gas tax is too low.

Display Name said...

You forgot to mention the way several road-building companies are well-known and regular and large contributors to Republicans.

James Rowen said...

@John: I intended that as a separate posting. This was getting awfully long. @Dave; Yes, I tweaked the text about HNTB and rail. Are you going tp present at the hearing? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This is Walker style "good government." Get an "independent" panel of experts to recommend a huge tax increase and Walker will simply "agree with the experts." Walker will do anything to keep those roadbuilder contributions coming in.

Mpeterson said...

Beautiful job!

Unknown said...

You say there will be a meeting on Wednesday, January 12th, but Jan 12 is a Thursday.

Increasing the gas tax is easy and efficient, it hasn't been done in a long time and vehicles are traveling more miles on the same amount of gas. If plug-in vehicles are seen as skirting gas tax laws then make them pay an extra fee for vehicle registration.

Adding tolls to roads is a waste of money and slows traffic.

James Rowen said...

To Anon: I have made a mistake with the date, obviously, and will correct it.

James Rowen said...

It is Thursday, 1/12: Thursday, January 12, 2012 Madison, Wisconsin 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Full-day commission meeting with evening public listening session)

Jake formerly of the LP said...

Hey you think Walker flew down to Florida to grab $25,000 from the roadbuilders last Summer for NOTHING? C'MON MAN!

And wait till they throw out Regional "Transportation" Authorities to funnel even more cash to his road builder buddies. It'll be an awesome reversal.