Raise The Gas Tax Already

Regular readers know that I have written any number of similar posts over the years…often as former Governor Scott Walker and the GOP legislative leadership struggled with funding Wisconsin’s transportation needs (i.e. highways).

And the problem hasn’t gone away but the players have changed. In his 2019 – 2021 budget proposal, Governor Tony Evers proposes an 8 to 10 cent per gallon (depending on the media outlet) gasoline tax hike. But GOP leadership immediately said no without even taking a breath.

Now at least they have taken a step to address the issue and raise revenues. But boy have they taken a long circuitous path. They want to raise fees instead…big time.

Now I don’t quite understand their reluctance to raise the gas tax. Is it the word tax? Although I’ll argue that a fee is still a tax, it still has a thorn despite smelling like a rose to no taxers. Or is it the fact that a Democrat is proposing the change and they need to be against all things Democratic.

Well, here is what they are proposing instead:

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee voted Thursday night to increase vehicle title fees by $95 and registration fees by $10 to generate hundreds of millions for Wisconsin road projects in the next state budget.

Altogether, the moves would generate $393 million in new revenue for transportation, a total about $200 million less than Gov. Tony Evers wanted, but more than in any budget signed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Republicans would also use another $90 million from the state’s general fund to pay for road projects, bringing the total new funding to $484 million.

Evers also called for increasing fees on heavy trucks, which do the most damage to Wisconsin roads, which would have generated about $72 million.

Republicans rejected the gas tax increase and the fee on heavy trucks.

Instead, they voted to raise the current vehicle registration fee from $75 to $85 per year and increase the vehicle title fee from $69.50 to $164.50 — an increase of 137 percent.

emphasis mine

I stated my reasons for increasing the gas tax a number of times…but it won’t hurt to refresh the points here.

First, it is a usage tax. Those who drive the most generally buy the most gas and would pay the most to build and maintain the state’s roads and highways.

Second, nearly every user would pay the gas tax including out of state visitors and travelers who are simply traversing the state to go elsewhere. They contribute to the wear and tear on the highways and should shoulder some of the burden.

Third, although the GOP will tell you that the gas tax is regressive…and it is…at some point the base belief is those able to travel more are more likely those most able to afford the taxes.

Fourth, I thought the GOP loved pay as you go kinda stuff.

One thing missing from a gas tax…is how do you handle hybrids and pure electric cars that use little or no gasoline. That supposedly is one of the reasons the GOP went down their road. (see footnote below)

Now a 137% increase in the title fee and an increase in the licensing fees is truly regressive. Every car would pay the same fees. No matter their age or their value or how much they are driven. And someone buying a 1998 Toyota Corolla is less likely able to pay $164.50 for their title than the purchaser of a 2019 Honda Accord. And they are probably not putting up the same mileage numbers either. I think the gas tax is the more affordable way to go for many.

Here’s one thing coming out of the GOP bill that I don’t quite understand

Annual fees for light trucks would be set at $100 — a $25 increase for trucks weighing 4,500 pounds, and a $55 cut for trucks weighing 10,000 pounds.

emphasis mine

Why would we cut fees on the vehicles who do the most damage to Wisconsin highways? Whose pocket is getting lined here? Which business group is filling campaign coffers? Is the GOP once again adding to the burden of the average citizen to the advantage of a special interest group? It certainly isn’t to support sales of larger vehicles which are already at record levels. I think that fee should be left where it is.

There would appear to be a lot of room for compromise here. A small increase in fees plus a gas tax increase somewhere between zero and ten cents…or gas tax increases implemented in parcels over the two year budget. But that’s not likely to happen in the Madison legislature’s policy of scorched earth responses to all thing Democratic.

“This is the most significant investment of new revenues into our transportation system in more than a generation,” said GOP Rep. John Nygren of Marinette, co-chairman of the committee.

Let me remind Rep. Nygren, that his party was in complete control of state government in Wisconsin for nearly half of that period. Any shortcomings in support of Wisconsin infrastructure falls heavily on their hands.

btw: Here’s a sadly humorous aside from one of ‘prominent’ state senators:

“In general we’re listening to our constituents who all over this state said, ‘Fix these damn roads,’” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. “They feel like their roads are deteriorating, and they want us to address rehab.”

They feel like their roads are deteriorating? How does she get from River Hills to Madison without noticing the condition of Wisconsin’s roads and highways? Man oh man, you can’t make this stuff up.

FOOTNOTE on Hybrids:

Hybrid vehicles. Lawmakers two years ago established surcharges of $100 for electric vehicles and $75 for hybrid vehicles, but the Department of Transportation wasn’t able to impose them on hybrid vehicles because legislators wrote the measure in a way that made it difficult to identify which vehicles owed them.

Republicans went along with a plan by Evers to tweak the phrasing of the measure so the department can start collecting those fees. 


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4 thoughts on “Raise The Gas Tax Already

  1. I sent the following to both of my local (R) representatives in Madison (Snyder and Petrowski):

    “I’ll be certain to take solace in the knowledge that the driver of the double-cab dually with the Illinois plates that passes me at 20 mph over the speed limit pulling the 6-place snowmobile trailer won’t be paying a dime more to use the beat up roadways in this state.
    I will. He won’t.

    You guys are unbelievable.”

  2. Everyone is missing the obvious solution.

    A ten cent a gallon pumping FEE paid at the pump when purchasing gasoline.

  3. The emphasis from Republicans seems to be aimed more at discouraging electric cars than paying for highway maintenance. If they really were concerned about this, there’s any number of possible solutions.

    There’s lots of charging stations springing up – they could charge a “road maintenance fee” for each kilowatt of energy consumed. Home charging stations could have meters to measure the fees.

    Alternatively, check the electric car’s odometer and charge a per mile fee.

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