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Racine Co. Exec. McReynolds: Calls for referendum on amending state constitution to protect transportation funding

Racine Co. Exec. McReynolds: Calls for referendum on amending state constitution to protect transportation funding6/22/2010 

CONTACT: Geoff Greiveldinger  (262) 636-3120 Geoff.Greiveldinger@goRacine.org 

Racine – Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds today announced that he is asking the County Board to place on the September 14, 2010 primary ballot an advisory referendum question whether the state constitution should be amended to prevent state transportation funds from being used for non-transportation purposes. The request appears in a letter addressed to County Board Chairman Peter Hansen and Vice Chairman Russell Clark.

The letter points out that the State of Wisconsin has routinely used transportation funds for non-transportation purposes, adversely impacting Racine County and its residents; and it further notes that the state’s financial situation is not expected to improve greatly in the near future. Therefore, the letter urges that county voters have an opportunity to express their views on a possible state constitutional amendment to prevent future diversions of transportation funds.

The County Board has already placed on the November 2, 2010 general election ballot an advisory referendum question concerning potential new taxes in Racine County to help fund mass transit. To avoid confusion between two advisory referendum questions that deal with different aspects of transportation funding, McReynolds suggests that the referendum on diversion of state transportation funding to non-transportation purposes be placed on the September 14, 2010 primary election ballot.

The text of the letter and the attached draft resolution appear below.

LETTER TO COUNTY BOARD CHAIRMAN AND VICE CHAIRMAN 

June 22, 2010 

Peter L. Hansen Chairman, Racine County Board 730 Wisconsin Ave Racine, WI 53403

Russell A. Clark Vice Chairman, Racine County Board 730 Wisconsin Ave Racine, WI 53403

Dear Chairman Hansen and Vice Chairman Clark:

As you know, reductions in State of Wisconsin funding for transportation, including reductions in funding for state highway maintenance, have had a serious impact on Racine County and its residents. Those reductions are largely attributable to the state’s use of transportation funds for non-transportation purposes.

With the state and national economic situations continuing to be difficult, there is little prospect of windfalls in transportation funding. We cannot afford to see more transportation funds diverted from the purposes for which they are collected and for which they are sorely needed.

Therefore, I request that the County Board adopt a resolution putting to the voters an advisory referendum question that asks whether they favor amending the state constitution to prohibit the use of state transportation funds for non-transportation purposes. A draft resolution is attached. 

Because the November 2010 ballot will contain an important advisory referendum on new taxes for transit in Racine County, it may be preferable for this advisory referendum concerning a constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot for the September 2010 primary election.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

William L. McReynolds County Executive

ATTACHMENT

RESOLUTION PLACING ADVISORY REFERENDUM QUESTION ON BALLOT

WHEREAS, since 2003, the State of Wisconsin has transferred more than $1.2 billion from its segregated transportation fund to the general fund and has only partially replaced that amount with funds from General Obligation (GO) bonds, thereby reducing the amount available for transportation purposes by more than $400 million; and

WHEREAS, Wisconsin’s practice of transferring money from the segregated transportation fund to the general fund has eroded the public’s confidence that the “user fees” paid through the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees will be used for their intended transportation purposes; and

WHEREAS, Wisconsin’s practice of replacing the dollars transferred from the state’s segregated transportation fund with GO bonds puts our state in the precarious position of bonding to fund ongoing operations; and

WHEREAS, a November 2009 report issued by the Pew Center on the States singled out Wisconsin as having one of the ten worst budget situations among the 50 states and specifically cited transferring money from the transportation fund to fund ongoing operations as one of the practices that have put Wisconsin in such a difficult position; and

WHEREAS, the debt service for these bonds will have to be paid for out of the state’s general fund, which will hinder its future ability to fund other programs, such as Shared Revenue, Youth Aids, Community Aids and courts; and

WHEREAS, although gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees constitute over 90% of the state’s segregated transportation account, revenues from those two sources have been declining and are inadequate to meet the existing transportation needs in this state; and

WHEREAS, Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure is a fundamental component in its ability to attract and retain business and produce jobs; and

WHEREAS, a number of states, including our neighbors in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio, already have provisions in their state constitutions to prevent diversion of transportation funds to non-transportation purposes; and

WHEREAS, the citizens of Racine County deserve the right to have their voices heard on this important issue.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Racine County Board of Supervisors that the following question will be put to the voters of Racine County in an advisory referendum during the September 14, 2010 primary election:

Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund? 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the County Clerk is directed to cause a copy of the Notice of Referendum to be published in the county’s official newspaper as required by law; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the County Clerk is directed to provide a copy of this resolution and a copy of the results of the advisory referendum to the Governor of Wisconsin, to Racine County’s state legislative delegation, and to the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Respectfully submitted,