Road builders and transport companies want a constitutional amendment so government transportation dollars don't get spent on other things. Referendums in 54 counties indicate the public may feel the same way.
In the past, both Democrats and Republicans have dipped into the state transportation fund for other expenses. It's one of the state's largest segregated funds and, in the words of Thom Ciske, it's become a "piggy bank" when the state is short of money. Ciske is with the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce. He says that without an explicit "Hands-Off!" policy written into the state constitution, transportation dollars will continue to be siphoned off, especially if the pot of money were to get bigger from an increase in the gas tax. A transit commission recently made that controversial recommendation. Craig Thompson from the Transportation Development Association says increases would be easier to swallow if all the money went for its intended purpose.
"I do hear a fair amount of push back, that there is cynicism about where our dollars - that we pay in for our registration fees and gas tax - are going: whether they're going for transportation purposes or not."
A Dane County man bicycled 13 miles in the cold to attend the hearing. Hans Noelner of Oregon wasn't necessarily against constitutional protection for the state's transportation fund. What bothers him is the emphasis on highway projects: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have far more important things to worry about than raids on a bloated and unsustainable highway fund."
A constitutional change is a long complicated process; supporters are a third of the way there: the legislature aproved it once but needs to again before the public could have its say at the ballot box in 2014.