The Wisconsin State Senate voted Wednesday in favor of a constitutional amendment that would create and protect separate transportation funds, sending it to voters for approval in November.
The Assembly previously voted in favor of the amendment Feb. 13, but for the amendment to pass it will need to face the state’s voters in a November referendum.
The Senate passed the amendment with a 25-8 vote, joining the Assembly which previously voted in favor of the amendment Feb. 13. However, some senators objected on how separate general funds and transportation funds should be, and five of the eight senators who wrote a substitution for the original amendment voted against it.
The substitute amendment said money could not be transferred from the General Purpose Revenue Fund to the transportation fund. The substitute tabled after a 19-14 vote, with Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee joining Republicans to vote against it, and will be determined at a later session.
Three of the senators who offered the substitute amendment, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton; Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie; and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, voted for the original amendment after the substitute was tabled.
Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, who voted for the original amendment but not the substitute one, said he agrees transportation and general funds should be distinct.
“People want to know whether we are really serious about ending the practice of taking money from transportation and putting it into the general fund,” Schultz said. “The issue is: are we going to fix yesterday’s problem and make sure it doesn’t reoccur? And that’s the reason we should vote for [separating these funding sources].”
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, spoke out against the amendment saying the Department of Transportation has its own source of funding, including gas taxes and registration fees, and therefore should not draw money from the general fund.
Cullen, one of the eight senators supporting the substitute amendment, said moving money from the general fund to transportation would take away money from other programs including health care, education and corrections that do not have their own funding source.
“Gov. [Scott] Walker has indicated that he will take $129 million out of the general budget and into the transportation fund when it should be going for public education and good causes,” Cullen said.
Schultz said he agreed with Cullen’s concerns and said he would like to see education put ahead of transportation. However, he said it was not the issue being addressed at the session.
Erpenbach said programs supported by both parties, such as education, would not see additional funding, while transportation would thrive financially.
Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said preventing re-allocation of transportation dollars is unnecessary.
He added the senators should not adopt the amendment supporting transportation fund protection and should simply find other means of investing in the transportation fund. Jauch, who voted against the original amendment, said the amendment ignores the real problem of finding a way to fund transportation.
“We are going to be creating an Oregon Trail transportation system unless we have the real dollars to do it,” Jauch said.
Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, who voted in favor of the amendment preventing use of transportation funds for other purposes, said transportation goes to more than just infrastructure. He said infrastructure is important and will allow the state to grow and prosper, but it is not all that matters.