MacIver News Service | May 29, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. — A gas tax hike now appears to be dead on arrival.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos apparently put the final nail in the gasoline tax increase earlier this week, telling a group of conservatives an increase to the state’s gas tax to fund Wisconsin’s transportation projects is off the table.
The Rochester Republican, speaking at a campaign event Tuesday evening for his Assembly colleague, Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), said he would prefer the revenue increase because, as a conservative, he believes the government should pay for its priorities without raising debt levels, sources with knowledge of the event told MacIver News Service.
A spokeswoman for Vos said the speaker was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
Vos, according to sources, also said the Republican caucuses in both houses remain united in their efforts to rein in Gov. Tony Evers’ massive tax-and-spend budget plan. The Democrat’s $84.2 billion proposal would include an 8-cent per-gallon tax increase on gasoline, which is projected to raise nearly $485 million in new revenue over the life of the two-year budget. Evers’ transportation funding plan also would automatically increase the tax each year, to the rate of inflation, bringing in about $42 million through mid-2021.
Standing united with their brethren in the Senate apparently means Vos and Assembly Republicans are giving up on a gas tax hike.
“I don’t see the tax (increase) right now,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told WisconsinEye during an interview earlier this month at the state Republican Party convention.
Wisconsin’s gas tax is 32.9 cents per gallon, among the top 20 highest fuel taxes in the nation. Evers’ proposed increase would rank Wisconsin in the top 10 list of highest gas taxes among all states.
A Marquette Law School Poll last month found a majority of respondents did not support a gas tax hike.
Last session, the gas tax question was the main issue of contention between Republicans in the Assembly and Senate, with Assembly leadership pushing for an increase, and Senate Republicans against it. GOP leadership in both houses have said they will not let that happen this time around, that the stakes are too high for anything to divide them in divided government for the first time in eight years.
Instead, sources say Republicans are looking at fee increases to drive transportation revenue.
Steven Walters, senior producer with WisconsinEye, reported earlier this week that Senate Republicans are considering raising:
- $75 annual registration fee for cars and light trucks
- Registration fees on heavy trucks, an idea that met with much resistance from the trucking industry and commerce group in the last session
- Transfer vehicle fees, currently at $69.50 fee
One source says Vos told campaign event attendees that Republicans will have to come up with alternative revenue sources to fill the void of a higher gas tax. Vos still expected the budget to be wrapped up by the end of June, and thought there was a “51 percent chance” Evers would veto the Republican-led budget bill, the source said.
Capitol insiders expect the Legislature’s budget-writing committee to take up the Department of Transportation spending plan next week.