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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 21, 2018

Compromise: Walker on pursuing toll roads

Gov. Scott Walker promised not to pursue toll roads, saying they weren't on his agenda.

But less than two weeks after Walker defeated Mary Burke in 2014 to win his second term, there was news that his transportation secretary had asked for money to hire a consultant to study the feasibility of tolling Wisconsin's highways and bridges, with a report due in late 2016.

That led us to rate Walker's promise as Stalled, given that doing the study was a step toward pursuing tolling.

The study, which cost nearly $1 million and was done as part of the  2015-'17 state budget, was produced in December 2016. It found the state could take in hundreds of millions of dollars a year from tolling drivers on Wisconsin interstates, but that state officials would face difficulties getting federal approval and raising the money necessary to launch such tolling. Walker's spokesman said at the time the report would help guide officials as they consider their options.

So, what's happened since then?

Walker has indicated he's potentially open to tolls. But he's put conditions on how he would consider them  — and, unlike some fellow Republicans in the Legislature, he hasn't pushed the idea:

May 2017: Walker signaled he's open to charging tolls on Wisconsin's interstates, saying a tolling plan "would be something we'd look at"  — but "it would have to include a reduction in the gas tax for Wisconsin residents."

June 2017: Walker laid out a framework for accepting tolling, saying any plan would have to bring in money from out-of-state drivers and then use that money to lower gas taxes for state residents. He said he had privately told lawmakers he could accept tolling if it were "limited to access points on the state line, particularly for example on the Illinois state line" where tolls are already collected across the border. "If (Wisconsin drivers) saw some relief and the people coming out of Chicago or Rockford or elsewhere helped where they're used to that — again I'm not promoting that — but that's something we could live with," Walker said.

September 2017: Walker vetoed out of the 2017-'19 state budget a $2.5 million contract to study tolling, saying the state Department of Transportation could study tolling without hiring a firm to do it. In issuing the veto, he said he was directing the department to review whether there was a need for further study of tolling.  

February 2018: Top state lawmakers said Wisconsin should put tolls on state highways and use the money to draw more federal dollars through President Donald Trump's proposed infrastructure plan. But within hours, Walker cast doubts on the idea, saying he wouldn't necessarily back it and would only do so if taxes were cut by an equal or greater amount. He said: "To be perfectly clear, I am not in any way suggesting support for tolling today. I am not taking it off the table permanently, but I want to make it clear just because someone brought it up doesn't mean I'm proposing it."

Our rating

Walker promised not to pursue toll roads.

But the 2015-'17 state budget included nearly $1 million to study the feasibility of toll roads  — certainly a first step toward making the pursuit of tolling possible.

On the other hand, unlike some Republican lawmakers, Walker has not pushed for the state to do tolling. And he has said he would support tolling only under certain conditions.

We rate this promise a Compromise.

Our Sources

Wisconsin Department of Transportation, toll feasibility study, Dec. 30, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Report: Major road delays in store," Dec. 28, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Scott Walker ties Wisconsin tolling to hitting up Illinoisans, others at state line," June 7, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin should use tolls to get matching money for Trump's infrastructure plan, top lawmakers say," Feb. 7, 2018

Wisconsin State Journal, "Scott Walker says he's open to tolling," May 31, 2017

Wisconsin State Journal, "Scott Walker: Eliminating income tax, raising sales tax on the table," Dec. 19, 2013

Gov. Scott Walker, veto message, Sept. 20, 2017

Email, Wisconsin Policy Forum research director Jason Stein, Sept. 18, 2018

Email, Wisconsin Democratic Party communications director Courtney Beyer, Sept. 19, 2018

Email, Gov. Scott Walker press secretary Amy Hasenberg, Sept. 19, 2018

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 26, 2016

First step in a pursuit: Do a study

During his run for re-election in 2014, Gov. Scott Walker promised that "toll roads are not on my agenda."

But soon, they were -- at least as a possible option.

Less than two weeks after Walker defeated Democrat Mary Burke, there was news that Mark Gottlieb, his transportation secretary, wanted to study the feasibility of tolling.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

Gottlieb asked for more than $1 million to hire a consultant to study for 18 months the feasibility of tolling Wisconsin's highways and bridges. The study would look at where tolls could be established, gauge public opinion on the issue and recommend how to oversee a tolling system. "This data will help us understand where tolling might make sense as well as give us a better understanding of what it would take to implement here in (Wisconsin)," a DOT spokeswoman said.

The contract was awarded to HNTB Corp. and the study is expected to be finished in November 2016.  

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson emphasized that toll roads in Wisconsin would require approval from the federal government, and that Walker has not made such a request. Evenson also said the state is also studying other transportation options, not only toll roads.

A footnote:

Toll roads haven't always been a dead-end with Walker. A few days after Walker was first elected in 2010, we gave him a Half Flip on our Flip-O-Meter for a partial change in his position.

He said he didn't support full-fledged toll roads, which require every driver to pay; but that he was open to adding faster-moving toll lane to freeways, which drivers would pay to use.

Whether the study leads to toll roads remains to be seen. But a study of their feasibility certainly is a step toward the possibility of making them happen.

We rate this promise Stalled.

Our Sources

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