Proposed Wheel Tax Not Unique to Milwaukee County

Oct 3, 2016

For the past eight years, people who live in Milwaukee have been paying an additional $20 to register their vehicles. Now, Milwaukee County residents may have to cough up an additional $60. That’s what County Executive Chris Abele will formally introduce in his 2017 budget proposal Monday. He says the so-called wheel tax is necessary in order to plug a hole in the transit budget. An increasing number of local governments across Wisconsin are considering the option.

County Executive Chris Abele says it’s unlikely the state budget will provide additional aid for transit, so the only tool the county has is a wheel tax.

“We can’t rely on the state or more federal funds to fully fund our transportation needs, in fact to some degree we’ve benefited from the fact that fuel costs have been relatively low, so a vehicle registration fee is the only option legally available to the county,” Abele says.

Abele says projections show that a $60 fee would generate an additional $27 million per year. He says the new revenue would pay for road repairs and major purchases such as new buses. It would also cover a gap in the transit budget, created from the county’s new Go Pass program; it offers free bus rides to residents age 65 and older. One supervisor opposed to the plan is Deanna Alexander; her district covers part of Milwaukee’s north side.

“I think it’s exorbitant, it’s too much and we do not need to be looking at raising taxes. We need to look at making life more affordable for the citizens of Milwaukee, not more expensive,” Alexander says.

Alexander says she hopes the County Board can find savings in other areas, so it doesn’t have to even consider a fee. The board voted down a wheel tax in 2010. But, some local governments are revisiting the idea, according to Todd Berry of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. For instance, Marathon County recently adopted a $25 vehicle fee, while the city of Wausau is putting a question on the November ballot.

“And the reason it’s getting looks is that counties and municipalities around the state are in this revenue squeeze because they are under state mandated property tax limits and state aids have generally been frozen or are even declining,” Berry says.

Berry says because municipalities are facing limited options, he expects more local governments to consider wheel taxes in the near future. Milwaukee County supervisors will hold public hearings on Abele’s budget proposal throughout October, with action set for Nov. 7.