Assembly Speaker Vos says truck fee could bridge budget deal

MADISON — Assembly Republicans are supportive of a new fee on heavy trucks to help pay for roads and appear to be aligned with Gov. Scott Walker on a budget deal, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday.

News of the potential breakthrough to solve the budget impasse came after Walker, Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald discussed a per-mile truck fee idea on Wednesday. Vos said Thursday that Assembly Republicans were "generally supportive" of the idea. Fitzgerald remained open to it, after initially calling it a "nonstarter," but said some senators would oppose it.

The state's powerful chamber of commerce, the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity have all blasted the idea.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber, tweeted Thursday that it "strongly opposes tax on heavy trucks to pay for roads - dramatically raises costs for businesses & consumers."

Eric Bott, the head of Americans for Prosperity, branded the idea "highway robbery."

"Under this scheme, small trucking businesses will get hit worst and first," he said. "They'll pass these new costs onto their customers or lose business to firms operating in other states."

Vos indicated that the truck fee, which could bring in $250 million over two years, was one of the "potential pieces" to solving the budget impasse. It could be temporary and be replaced in a few years by money generated from toll roads, if the Legislature endorses that idea, Vos said.

"I'm optimistic the Assembly is aligned with Gov. Walker and we feel very good that we have the ability to get to an answer that we can pass and hopefully he can sign," Vos said.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson did not immediately return a message asking whether the governor would support the truck fee.

Assembly Republicans have insisted on raising revenue as part of the plan to solve a $1 billion shortfall in the transportation budget, the biggest road block to reaching a budget deal. Walker proposed $500 million in new borrowing and Senate Republicans back $850 million more in borrowing.

Vos said the truck fee "sounds better than the current plan" to borrow $850 million.

How the fee would be structured, who would have to pay it and exactly how much money it would bring in are all details Vos and Fitzgerald said are still being discussed. Senate Republicans were planning a briefing on July 6 to discuss that idea and others, meaning votes to pass the budget in the Legislature likely won't come until the week of July 10 at the earliest.

The current budget ends Friday, but spending continues at current levels until a deal is reached.

Vos said Assembly Republicans were also supportive of Walker's proposed income tax cuts in general, while Senate Republicans have said they would prefer to reduce or eliminate the personal property tax paid by businesses.

Negotiations are continuing over whether, and how much, to raise income eligibility limits for parents who want to send their children to a private school through the voucher program, Vos said. Current limits are 185 percent of the federal poverty level, but there have been talks of raising it to 300 percent, allowing families to earn more and still accept the taxpayer-funded voucher.