Madison’s mayor proposes new $40 wheel tax as part of 2020 operating budget

WPF: Wheel taxes becoming more common statewide

The mayor of Madison is looking to impose a $40 vehicle registration fee, also known as a wheel tax, on vehicle owners living in Madison.

Part of the fee would be used to help fund the Bus Rapid Transit system.

The public transit system would use dedicated lanes, larger buses and have more modern bus stations to help reduce ride times.

The proposal comes as vehicle registration fees increased statewide Tuesday.

The Madison wheel tax would be in addition to the $28 wheel tax adopted by Dane County a couple of years ago.

Some Madison drivers, including car salesman Keith Norris, say the costs are piling on.

“People are constantly complaining about the wheel tax,” Norris said. “They don’t want it. We have to explain it’s part of what’s going on, so we do it. Me, personally, I’m against it also.”

“It just feels like more and more money is expected. I’m supposed to be retired and carefree, and I’m not, so it’s kind of scary,” Madison resident Pam Klinzing said. “I just think that’s way too much.”

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the decision to set the fee at $40 came from planning for the future.

“There’s no particular science to it, but that level is what we felt was needed, not just this year but long term,” she said.

Both Norris and Klinzing support the bus system but ask Rhodes-Conway to look elsewhere for funding.

Rhodes-Conway said she has tried, but the state legislature limits on how municipalities can raise revenue make the wheel tax the most realistic option.

“The other options we considered were all looking at places we could cut,” she said. “Many of the cuts we didn’t take would have, I think, much more drastic impacts on the community.

Rhodes-Conway said Madison would not be alone in adopting the wheel tax.

According to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum, in 2011, four communities imposed a wheel tax. By the end of 2017, that number went up to 27.

“Local governments in Wisconsin have few local revenue options other than the property tax, which has been tightly restricted since 2011,” the group wrote in its brief on wheel taxes, also noting that municipalities appear to be spending less on local streets and roads. “Against this backdrop, the appeal of the wheel tax becomes clearer.”

“You’re seeing that across the state as more and more cities turn to vehicle registration fees to raise revenue,” Rhodes-Conway said. “There really aren’t very many additional options.”

Klinzing said if car costs keep rising, soon she might not have many options, either.

“The bus is very important to a lot of people that can’t afford a vehicle. That may be me shortly down the road,” she said.

The fee would be issued sometime at the beginning of next year, according to the mayor’s 2020 budget proposal.

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