After capping what municipalities, counties, and school districts can levy for local property taxes…the state legislature has been working to limit the referendums that local government can run to get voter permission to exceed those caps. And that has essentially left one avenue of additional revenues left to local governments to finance infrastructure projects. That is a wheel tax. The City of Milwaukee levied one a few years ago…it was nominal at $20. This past year Milwaukee County levied a $30 wheel tax of its own although County Executive Chris Abele had requested $60. A non-binding referendum this past spring in support of the $60 levy was soundly defeated. For 2017, anyone registering an automobile in the City of Milwaukee will be getting a bill of $125 to renew their license plates.
So what do the good people of the GOP in Madison want to do? Help out the local governments with additional shared state revenues? Improve the state transportation fund with additional fuel taxes? Heavens no! They want to put new restrictions on implementation of the wheel tax!
In another swipe at local control, a GOP legislative plan would require counties and municipalities to pass referendums if they want wheel taxes to help fix their roads. A wheel tax is another term for a vehicle registration fee.
Rep. Michael Schraa, of Oshkosh, is sponsoring a bill that would require local governments to sponsor such wheel tax referendums only during regularly scheduled elections. If his bill is approved in current form, it would also require communities that already have a wheel tax to hold a referendum within 18 months after the bill becomes law in order to retain their wheel tax.
Under current law, local governments may enact ordinances imposing an annual flat municipal or county registration fee on all motor vehicles. The fees that are collected are required to be used for transportation-related purposes only.
As I said earlier, the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County have only recently imposed these taxes. Between the state shared revenue declines and property tax caps and lack of state support for infrastructure since the ascendance of Governor Walker, the is little opportunity for local government to fund maintenance projects. But it seems to be a growing trend around the state.
State law has allowed local wheel taxes since 1967, but few local governments have imposed them until recently as state and federal transportation dollars shrink and roads deteriorate. As of late last year, 16 counties and communities had wheel taxes, and 13 of them were enacted in the past two years, according to the state Department of Transportation. These include Milwaukee and Marathon counties, and the cities of Kenosha, Beloit, and Appleton.
But it is pretty sad that Madison continues to micro-manage our local governments and our local elected officials. The self-identified defenders of local control have no inkling on what that really means…apparently it only applies to things they agree intensified by their seeming lack of understanding of local problems and issues…and just one more time into the breach to take control away from the local citizens!
Side note: follow Rep. Michael Schraa and follow the money.