Taxed out in Madison

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 3, 2019

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — To perhaps no one’s surprise, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is proposing a $40 vehicle registration fee — commonly known as a wheel tax.

How’d she arrive at $40? The liberal city mayor said, “there’s no particular science to it.” Rhodes-Conway told that she and her tax-and-spend, big-government friends just “felt” like that was the level they “needed, not just this year but long term.”

She wants to use part of the fee — a tax by any other name — to help fund her $130 million Bus Rapid Transit system that Madison does not appear to need or want. Rhodes-Conway’s “top priority” would dedicate lanes and bigger buses to cut mass transit times.

If the mayor gets her way, Madison motorists will be looking at a combined wheel tax of $158 per year. Dane County implemented a $28 wheel tax last year, and lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers this year hiked the state wheel tax by $10 to $85.

It’s all getting to be too much for Madison residents like Pam Klinzing, who told WISC News, “It just feels like more and more money is expected.”

“I’m supposed to be retired and carefree, and I’m not, so it’s kind of scary,” she said. “I just think that’s way too much.”

She’s not alone.

But are the ultra-liberal denizens of Madison getting what they paid for? They seem to chronically support any candidate or any proposal that will cost them more tax dollars.

Madison would join the 25 Wisconsin cities that impose wheel taxes, from $10 to a high of $30 in Milton, according to the state Department of Transportation. Another 11 counties collect the fee. Milwaukee County charges $30, while the city’s wheel tax is at $20. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele last year had proposed doubling his county’s registration fee, already the highest in the state.

Of course, voters would have a say in wheel tax increases if the Legislature had passed a key transportation reform bill last session.

The proposal would require local governments bent on adopting wheel taxes to seek approval from voters through referenda. More so, the measure would require communities with existing wheel taxes to take the question to voters within 18 months of a fee-increase proposal.

But the Legislature bowed to the pressure of the usual lobbyists, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the Wisconsin Counties Association.

“We urge the committee to reject this unnecessary interference into policy decisions made by local elected officials,” Curt Witynski, the League’s deputy director, told the Senate Transportation Committee earlier this year.

“Interference,” according to the lobbyist, is allowing local voters to have a direct say on a controversial tax.

The bill died where it languished — in committee.

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