Buck stops here

(First published in the January 17, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Newly elected Gov. Tony Evers visited Wausau to highlight the need for better roads


Gov. Tony Evers greets a customer at the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles last Thursday to highlight his commitment to improving roads and to government employees. The stop was part of tour with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (right) and Craig Thompson, acting DOT Secretary.

Gov. Tony Evers made his first visit to Wausau as governor last Thursday, and stopped specifically at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Rib Mountain. Part of a statewide tour, the governor, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Dept. of Transportation acting Secretary Craig Thompson were in Wausau to highlight transportation.

That’s poignant, because the area is not only one of several communities that now pay a wheel tax — Marathon County tacks on $25 onto vehicle registration fees — but it has some of the worst roads in the state, reports show.

Evers used Wausau as a staging ground for his charge to help fix the state’s roads and bridges, something he says is crucial to the economy. Through the campaign trail and in town hall meetings, Evers says transportation emerged as the most critical issue. According to a report from national non-profit transportation research group TRIP, nearly half of major Wisconsin roads are in poor or mediocre shape, and the worst roads are in Milwaukee, Madison and Wausau.

Evers said because of cuts at the state level, many communities have passed wheel taxes. Marathon County passed its wheel tax in 2016 and Wausau mulled passing its own. Those wheel taxes came because the state stopped paying its fair share, Evers says.

With Wisconsin being the No. 2 transportation dependent economy in the country, fixing roads will be crucial to the state’s success, and he charged Thompson with addressing that issue.

Wausau stop was the third stop on a tour of the state to highlight Evers’ commitment to state employees, says Barnes. The visits are meant to show appreciation for state employees, in contrast to Walker who curbed bargaining rights and made changes to state retirement plans. Evers chose the Wausau area for the stop highlighting the Department of Transportation, which employs 3,400 employees according to WisDOT’s website.

Transportation is part of a bigger concern Evers says he plans to address as governor. As state cuts and levy limits hamper local governments’ ability to provide services, those municipalities are increasingly turning toward fees to make up the difference, including wheel taxes. Evers didn’t answer City Pages with specifics but says that addressing that shell game during his time as governor is a priority.

Evers says Thompson has experience working with both sides of the partisan aisle, and Thompson says he looks forward to finding a workable solution to Wisconsin’s transportation needs.