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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

About as close to a toll as you can get: Wisconsin considers a "mileage fee"

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You bought smaller cars and more fuel-efficient trucks.

You take better care of your rides to make sure you're getting the most out of every tank of gas.

And, you drive less.

Your reward?  In Wisconsin, paying more to get around this great state of ours.  The only question seems to be how the state extracts that extra cash from your wallet and/or purse.  Our state has an insatiable appetite for orange barrels and new/improved highways.  Madison's ability to pay for those habits is getting tougher as the gas taxes, license renewals and other DOT fees fail to cover the tab.

A legislative commission is considering all manner of higher taxes and registration fees including one that's tied to how much you drive, which to my reading sounds to be about as close to those dreaded tolls as we can get without erasing the state line and calling ourselves "Illinois".

"The commission," the Journal/Sentinel's Patrick Marley writes, "believes the state should raise fees by about $640 million a year for transportation costs. It proposes increasing the gas tax by 5 cents, to 37.9 cents per gallon; charging drivers 1.02 cents per mile they drive; increasing registration fees for commercial vehicles; raising the cost of an eight-year driver's license by $20, from $34 to $54; and eliminating the sales tax exemption for trading in cars.  The changes would raise the fees on a typical passenger vehicle by $120 a year."

Good thing the price of gas keeps falling.

The mileage fee, Marley says, would apply to passenger cars and light trucks.  Your first 3,000 mniles are free, and there's a 20,000 mile cap, meaning the most you would pay would be about $173 a year.  You'd have to submit your odometer readings to the DOT annual when you'd pay your $75 registration fee, which is when you'd also pony up for your driven miles.

Again, what's the difference between that and a toll? 

The commission, Marley says, is making these proposals to start the discussion and the conventional wisdom in Madison is that Republican opposition may be enough to snuff some of these ideas before they get far.   The GOP has the numbers in both the Assembly and the Senate.

Tolls, by any other name, aren't very popular in most parts of the state but at least they're fair--anyone from any state has to pay them.   From the sounds of this proposal, this is a charge--a toll--that would be paid exclusively by Wisconsin drivers.   Why should tourists, truckers and others get what looks to be a free ride?   Why not just hand everyone an I-Pass-like device, slap up the necessary gear and rake in the cash without the false pretense of a "mileage fee."

Something is going to have to give and by "give" I mean "go up".  Republicans aren't keen on raising the current 33 cent a gallon gas tax, and there are only so many other options.   The road lobby is a powerful Madison force and it makes its cash building new highways while fixing up old ones.   That won't change.

The only thing that might is how much you pay, and which pocket its going to come from.


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