Legislators at the first Wisconsin Freight Rail Day suggested that gas tax indexing, eliminated by lawmakers and the governor under political pressure, may return some day.
Rep. Jerry Petrowski, Sen. Neal Kedzie and Sen. Jeff Plale discussed rail and broader transportation funding issues at the forum in Madison yesterday.
The lawmakers suggested transpo funding in Wisconsin needed a long-term overhaul that would balance rail infrastructure and highway maintenance needs.
While Republicans Petrowski and Kedzie panned Gov. Jim Doyle’s oil tax, saying it would be passed along to consumers even if it were legal, Democrat Plale joked that if anybody had the magic funding wand in the room, he’d like to have it.
“I wish there was a simple answer,” said Plale, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities and Rail. “At some point … we have to take an overall look at how we fund transportation. We backed ourselves into a corner … And sooner or later the bar bill comes due.”
Asked specifically by a Minnesota attendee to explain why automatic gas tax indexing was eliminated, the lawmakers suggested a possible return because of funding pressures.
“At some given time, we probably will go back to that,” said Petrowski, chair of the Assembly Committee on Transportation, adding that will take “political courage.”
Kedzie, a member of Plale’s committee, concurred, noting the price of gas is something tax-sensitive motorists and potential voters see daily.
Plale also said the indexing could return: “What’s old may be new again.”
Freight rail advocates touted rail as an environmentally friendly and efficient way to move goods, lessen highway congestion and relieve stress on highways from trucks but said re-regulation of the industry, bad service and lack of good rail capacity could spoil the current “railroad renaissance.”
Kedzie said the industry has been at a disadvantage in terms of lobbying. “I think a lot of people thought rail was a thing of the past,” he said, suggesting a better “selling job” is helping. “You’re becoming a player again.”