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Jauch, Milroy introduce legislation to allow local sales tax option

Superior Telegram

Legislation needed to allow counties to use a local option sales tax for road repairs was introduced to the Legislature.

State Sen. Bob Jauch, and State Rep. Nick Milroy introduced legislation that would authorize a referendum process that could enable county officials to enact a one-half percent sales tax to be used for county highway improvements.

The idea for raising additional local revenue to fix deteriorating roads is a Legislative priority for the Superior Days delegation, based on a recommendation by the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission.

The recommendation would allow counties serving less than 100,000 residents authority to raise the sales tax one-half percent for transportation purposes.

The recent DOT report emphasized the “daunting challenge facing our state transportation system,” and noted failure to provide additional revenue for state and local highway projects would result in a dramatic deterioration of roads and bridges, and undermine the state’s effort to improve the economy.

The Northern lawmakers said those traveling county roads would hardly argue that Wisconsin counties are spending too much money on those roads.

Douglas County officials informed the lawmakers about $100 million is needed to substantially improve its 330 miles of roads but the budget remains at $2 million per year.

Under this plan, the county residents would determine whether the county could raise the sales tax to be use exclusively for road improvements. Douglas County estimates it would raise an additional $3 million annually to improve its roads under this plan.

The proposal a sunset on the sales tax unless approved by voters in a referendum every six years. That would enable the public to review the success of the investments, Jauch and Milroy said.

“We recognize that a comprehensive transportation plan will have to be considered by the next Legislature but are offering this plan now to showcase the unique challenges that rural counties are facing with deteriorating roads,” the lawmakers said in a prepared statement.

Jauch and Milroy said they hope this bill would facilitate a statewide conversation and create more awareness of the need for a proposal like this to be included in the next transportation budget.

Jauch and Milroy said they are confident this is a proposal the public will support.

Public opinion polls have shown the public will support such proposals when the money is being used to fund highway projects, they said.