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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 8.0° F  Fair
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Citizen Dave: Country music star Tyler August opposes highway funding for Wisconsin
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Rep. August apparently comes from and supports a must-drive culture that limits people's choices.
Rep. August apparently comes from and supports a must-drive culture that limits people's choices.

Tyler August doesn't like the recommendations of the Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance and Policy.

You may ask why does a Nashville country music star care about some dry report from Wisconsin? And wouldn't he be for fixing all those long country roads? Shouldn't he be more into honky-tonk than policy-wonk?

Turns out that, while Tyler August would be a great name for a country singer, he is actually a Republican state representative from Lake Geneva.

He issued a press release (PDF) "blasting" (not my word, but his) the report that came out last week.

Here's how Rep. August ended that release:

Perhaps the most troubling development coming from this commission other than the large tax increases, was the statement by commission member and former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz that the motivation for the tax increases was to discourage people from driving and to think twice about driving that extra mile," said August. "I realize Mayor Dave comes from an anti-automobile culture in Madison where people can take advantage of taxpayer subsidized mass transit, but I challenge him to walk in the shoes of the average Wisconsinite that must commute to work, drive their kids to school, or get products to the marketplace. For most of us, driving is a necessity and we feel we already pay too much at the pump.

This is the kind of stuff that gets issued on a daily basis in the Capitol, meant more for consumption back home than serious consideration in the Legislature. But there are so many misconceptions wound up in that one paragraph that it's worth the effort to pull it apart.

So here we go.

First, the tax increases weren't my idea. They were generated as options by the Republican-run state Department of Transportation, and unanimously endorsed by a committee where 80% of the members were appointed by Gov. Scott Walker or Republican legislative leaders.

The per mile fee that seems to have the representative especially irritated was pushed by the road builder interests more than anybody else.

Second, Wisconsinites might "feel" that they're already paying too much at the pump, but the truth is that the commission found that our overall transportation taxes are the lowest in the Midwest. All of the increases in the report would only bring us to the middle of the pack.

Third, Madison is not an anti-automobile culture. We're for freedom of choice in transportation and that includes cars. Rep. August apparently comes from and supports a must-drive culture that limits people's choices. I thought Republicans were all about personal freedom.

Fourth, he's right that mass transit is taxpayer subsidized. So are roads, except not so much at the local level, where property taxpayers pay most of the bills for local streets just like they pay the bills for some of the cost of bus systems.

Fifth, the vast majority of new funding in the recommendations would go to build the very roads that Rep. August says his constituents must drive on. In fact, there's so much money for roads that my fellow environmentalists have also "blasted" the report. If the measure of a good compromise is that everyone finds something to hate, we've done our jobs.

Lastly, he challenges me to walk in the shoes of the "average Wisconsinite who must commute" by car [emphasis added]. Well, it's hard to walk in their shoes when they always "must" be in their cars. I'd love to walk in the shoes of an average Wisconsinite who has the option (the freedom) to walk. I'd love to ride in their buses. I'd love to bike on their safe bike routes. And, in fact, I'd love to join them in their cars on smooth, pothole-free streets. All things that the commission's recommendations would help pay for.

If Tyler August were a country music star, as he should be, he might pen a song that went something like this:

I won't pay for no pavin' of that long country road
No sir,

You can keep your gas tax increases
Let the highways fall to pieces
Let the potholes grow where the streets is
Let the buses pray for bucks from Jesus

I'm a ridin' my Chevy on it
But I won't be payin' nothin' for it
Until it's just a cow path, darn it

I won't pay for no pavin' of that long country road
No sir.

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