Are schools and roads on a collision course when it comes to funding?

Lost, perhaps, amidst all the focus on candidates in statewide races in the latest Marquette University Law School Poll released last week were results that suggest voters are more open to investing more for schools than they are for roads.  Taxes and spending for schools and roads have been key issues in the race for governor.

On the broad question of state taxes and state services, 51 percent of registered voters surveyed said they would rather pay higher taxes and have state government provide more services, while 42 percent said they prefer lower taxes and fewer services from the state.

That’s a significant shift from January 2012, when the Marquette poll first asked the question. At that time, 41 percent preferred higher taxes and services while 50 percent wanted lower taxes and fewer services.

Interestingly, given the above result, voter opinions diverge sharply when it comes to raising property taxes to pay for schools and raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to pay for roads.

In the poll results released last week, 57 percent of registered voters surveyed supported increasing spending on public schools, while 37 percent preferred reducing property taxes, a result consistent with the recent Marquette poll results we have noted in previous blog posts and in our regional meeting presentations, and in sharp contrast to 49-46 margin y which voters favored cutting property taxes when this question was first asked in 2013.

When the same voters were asked about taxes and roads, 61 percent said it’s more important to keep gas taxes and vehicle registration fees where they are, while only 32 percent supported raising them to spend more on roads and highways.

The condition of both our state’s roads and highways and our public schools are clearly of concern to voters.  In the latest Marquette University Law School poll, 64 percent of Wisconsin residents indicated the state’s roads are in fair or poor condition.  Results from the August 22 Marquette poll showed 44 percent of respondents think the state’s public schools are in worse shape than they were a few years ago. 

School leaders should be aware that if spending on roads and highways is going to be increased in the next state budget without increases in the gas tax or registration fees, the traditional sources of transportation fund revenue for roads and highways, the money will have to come from someplace else.  If so, that could put schools and roads in direct competition for funding in the 2019-21 state budget.

Read more: about concerns over road conditions: Wisconsin Public Radio story (part 1)
Read more about the politics of road funding:  Wisconsin Public Radio story (part 2)