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Gas Tax Politics at Play in Wisconsin Gubernatorial Race

Incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker charges that his Democratic opponent, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, will hike gas taxes by as much as a dollar a gallon to fund road repair, on top of raising income and property taxes.
October 15, 2018, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Carolyn Franks

Gas taxes are not on the ballot in the Badger State on Nov. 6 as they are in Missouri, California, and Utah. But that hasn't deterred Gov. Scott Walker (R) from making it a campaign issue due to the fact that his Democratic opponent, state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, stated last month that increasing gas taxes is “on the table.” 

An interesting nuance to the campaign strategy is where he's running the ads.

"His newest ad isn’t on TV but can be seen on 3,000 screens mounted on gas pumps across the state," reports Patrick Marley for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. With Midwest gas prices up almost 50 cents-per-gallon over this time a year ago, the ads could prove effective.

In his ad, Walker argues — as he has at other times — that Evers would raise the gas tax by as much as $1 a gallon. That would quadruple the existing tax of 32.9 cents.

Evers has said he would be willing to increase the gas tax to take care of the state’s roads. He’s called it “ridiculous” and a “lie” to say he would raise it by as much as $1 a gallon, but has declined to say how much of an increase he would accept.

In November 2014, Walker too appeared to favor hiking gas taxes, unchanged since 2006 when the legislature abolished the practice of automatically adjusting its gas tax for inflation. A few months later, when he was viewed as a serious contender for the Republican presidential primary, he dropped the pay-as-you-go approach in favor of bonding to pay for road repair.

Two user fees under consideration in June 2017 were a heavy truck mileage fee and interstate highway tolling. Walker was said to have supported the latter, but neither has advanced. 

One transportation tax proposed by Walker in 2015 was actually adopted by Oregon two years later: a bicycle tax. However, Walker's idea was to couple the $25 bike tax with repealing the state's 2009 complete streets law.

Marley reports on Oct. 10 that a Marquette University Law School poll has Walker at 47 percent, Evers at 46 percent and Libertarian Phil Anderson at 5 percent.

Interestingly, a similar campaign strategy is being used by the incumbent Republican governor of Wisconsin's southern neighbor, Illinois, except it's a different transportation user fee. Gov. Bruce Rauner has accused his Democratic opponent, J.B. Pritzker, of wanting to charge a vehicle-miles-traveled fee. Like Evers, Pritzker's response is that all options are on the table.

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Published on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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