Walker Slams the Door on Gas Tax Increase

Governor responds to Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair Nygren’s call for a full consideration of all options

July 27, 2016 | MacIver News Service

[Madison, Wis…] Gov. Scott Walker has issued a statement reiterating his opposition to a new gas tax increase without a corresponding decrease elsewhere in the budget. Walker’s statement came in response to Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who, in a written statement and on a conference call with reporters, urged the Governor to keep all transportation tax increase options on the table.

“Raising taxes and fees is not the answer,” Walker writes in the statement. “Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin. That is a commitment I will honor.”

Walker’s statement goes on to highlight facts about Wisconsin’s transportation system, writing:

  • Wisconsin spends more on state highways per capita than almost any other neighboring state, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration.
  • For decades, the state’s gas tax has been among the highest in the nation.
  • According to the latest published data, more than 90 percent of our most heavily traveled highways are rated fair or better in condition. These are roads carrying half of all traffic and 70 percent of our freight.
  • Our last state budget included the lowest levels of new borrowing in at least 20 years.
  • The Transportation Fund condition is running better than projected in Act 55. Lower debt service and higher than projected revenues are resulting in a nearly $100 million better fund condition at the close of the biennium.

The statement comes on the heels of Nygren’s release of a Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) memo purportedly showing that the state’s highway improvement program fund has fallen $939 million short. Walker, in his press release, included several facts that seem to rebut the LFB memo.

Alongside the LFB memo, Nygren simultaneously released a statement calling for new revenue to lower the transportation debt and to address the state’s ongoing construction projects. In his call with press on Wednesday morning, Nygren stressed the importance of considering all options and having an open debate about the issue.

“The conversation needs to be taking place about not only what does our infrastructure look like going forward but how we’re going to fund that infrastructure,” Nygren said. “The governor has said he’s willing to consider a tradeoff in basically reductions in other areas, and I’m not saying that’s out of the question, however…I don’t believe – at least on the surface at this point in time – that it’d be realistic to expect that we’re going to be able to find those dollars without some type of revenue enhancers.”

Nygren expressed doubt that a tradeoff – raising the gas tax while decreasing taxes elsewhere in the budget, a move that Walker has said he would consider – would raise enough new revenue to continue ongoing construction projects in the state. The representative said that all options, such as a gas tax increase or tolling roads, should be considered – and that without a new source of revenue, almost any project in the state, including in southeast Wisconsin, would be in jeopardy of being either started or completed.

Walker’s memo writes that for decades, the state’s gas tax has been among the highest in the nation. On his part, Nygren mentioned that while Wisconsin has a reputation as a high gas tax state, when one considers other sources of revenue such as tolling and registration fees, “we’re either in the middle or actually, in most cases, on the low end of the equation.”

Nygren’s analysis, however, does not include the cost required for a title for a car. Wisconsin’s title fee, at $69.50, is the second highest in the midwest, behind Illinois’ $95 title fee. Minnesota charges $13.75 for a title fee. Indiana charges $15.

The conversation continued on Twitter, where both Walker and Nygren reiterated their points.