The state Assembly passed a constiutional amendment that would protect the state’s transportation fund Tuesday.
The amendment would prevent legislators from using transportation funds for any other purposes. It passed last session and now needs state Senate and voter approval in a November referendum.
Representatives passed the amendment on an 82-13 vote, with all nay votes coming from Democrats, although Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, voted for it.
The bill’s author, Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, said the amendment would ensure a common practice from past lawmakers to “raid” the transportation fund, citing the $1.3 billion the fund has lost in the past.
“The longer we allow this money to be moved from one account to the other, the harder it will be to maintain the impressive transportation system we have in this state,” Ripp said.
The public has been making this issue “clear,” Ripp said. He cited advisory referendum elections, in which 54 of the state’s 72 counties supported the amendment.
All the Democrats who spoke during the debate, despite some of them ultimately voting for the amendment, talked about funds more important to the middle class that could be protected.
Ripp, however, said legislators needed to focus first on transportation because it is the largest segregated fund and is the one that has been “abused the most by volume and repetition.”
Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, agreed with the amendment, but said legislators should be consistent in protecting different accounts.
“If we allocate money for a purpose, we should use it for that specific purpose,” Jorgensen said.
Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, who also voted against the amendment, said legislators should be fiscally responsible to begin with and should “surrender [their] own responsibilities” to a constitutional amendment.
Democrats failed in advancing another amendment they said would have protected the middle class. It would have created and protected a public employee trust fund and a tax credit fund. It would also have created a national mortgage settlement fund that would have protected money the state won in a settlement against banks last year and given back to homeowners any money already spent.
As the amendment passed the last legislative session, it now has to pass the Senate and, if it does, voters have to approve it in November.
Last month, a transportation commission the Legislature appointed last session released their report and recommended legislators approve the amendment.
The commission warned legislators the state needed to invest in order to maintain the state’s transportation system, calling for $480 million a year for the next 10 years. But in order to fund that, the commission called for increasing fees on Wisconsin drivers, which Republican leaders said they would refuse to do.
Democrats today said if Republicans are serious about protecting the state’s transportation system, they would take up the commission’s revenue proposals.