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Referendum on Creation of a Transportation Fund

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At the November 4, 2014, General Election, voters will have the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution:

QUESTION 1: “Creation of a Transportation Fund. Shall section 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?”

Explanation

In general, funds collected in fees and taxes may be appropriated for any public purpose determined by the Legislature.  Wisconsin’s transportation fund, which currently exists under statute, is designed to be the source of funding for all modes of transportation in the state.  Wisconsin law requires that specific revenue streams such as taxes or fees related to motor vehicles, aircraft, and railroads be deposited into the transportation fund.

At times, the Legislature has transferred moneys initially deposited into the transportation fund to programs with non-transportation-related purposes.  Such transfers have typically been to general revenue funds, which are used for state programs such as education, health care, and shared revenue.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suggested that these transfers are permissible under current law.

In essence, the proposed amendment would change the Wisconsin Constitution to require that revenues generated by specified uses of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund and expended only for transportation-related purposes.

A “yes” vote on this question would establish a department of transportation and a transportation fund in the state constitution.  The current Department of Transportation and transportation fund exist only under statute.  A “yes” vote would mean that all funds collected from taxes or fees in existence after December 31, 2010 for the licensing of motor vehicle operators, for the titling, licensing, or registration of motor vehicles, for motor vehicle fuel, or for the use of roadways, highways, or bridges, and from taxes and fees levied or imposed for aircraft, airline property, or aviation fuel or for railroads or railroad property would be deposited in the transportation fund or with certain authorized parties, such as a trustee for the benefit of the department of transportation.  Funds in the transportation fund may not be lapsed, further transferred, or used for any program that is not directly administered by the department of transportation in furtherance of the department’s responsibility for the planning, promotion, and protection of all transportation systems in the state (except for programs with an appropriation from the statutory transportation fund as of December 31, 2010).  The proposed amendment does not define “transportation systems.”

A “no” vote would mean that the Department of Transportation continues to be a statutory agency.  It also would mean that monies collected from motor vehicle, aircraft, and railroad fees and taxes could be appropriated by the Legislature for transportation systems or for other programs as determined by the Legislature.

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LRB Paper on Transportation Referendum 14wb9.pdf181.94 KB