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Northern Wisconsin Lobbies Again For Half-Percent Sales Tax For Roads

Counties Want To Ask Voters Whether They Would Support A Tax Increase

Road work sign
Toby Talbot/AP Photo

Northern Wisconsin leaders are lobbying lawmakers and state agencies to insert language into the budget bill allowing them to ask voters whether they would support a half-percent sales tax to pay for local road repairs.

But Wisconsin’s transportation secretary says any new tax proposals will meet roadblocks from the administration.

The state should allow the county to at least ask voters if they would approve the tax to fix roads, said Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert.

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“We need this ability on this half a percent sales tax because we’re not going to be able to bond our way out of this,” Liebaert said Tuesday during Superior Days at the state Capitol. “But, we bonded $5 million, and we plan on bonding for $26 million regardless of what happens with this half a percent sales tax.”

Douglas County is proposing to the Legislature insert language into the 2017-2019 budget for a pilot project that would allow only Douglas County to utilize the half-percent sales tax for road funding.

The county has more than 300 miles of road to maintain and has budgeted around $2 million each year to repair roads. At that rate, county officials claim it would take more than 50 years to repair its transportation infrastructure.

Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross said Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is opposed to any new taxes or fees.

“We need to make this a friendly place to live, and we need to try to reduce that tax burden, and so one of the ways to do that is to hold back any new taxes,” Ross said.

Walker’s budget provides $76 million for local roads, Ross said.

Douglas County plans to borrow more for maintenance needs because even increased funding won’t cover the cost of repairs, Liebaert said. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill last year that would have allowed local governments to ask voters if they’d support a half-percent sales tax, but it never reached the state Assembly floor for a vote.