The Republicans’ reluctance to raise the gas tax as outlined in Gov. Tony Evers’ transportation proposal is understandable, and we’d oppose a gas tax increase, too, in an ideal world.
In an ideal world, the gas tax wouldn’t exist. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have mass shootings. In an ideal world, every nation would give up nuclear weapons, and there would be no talk about climate change.
Unfortunately, we live in a world with less-than-ideal policies crafted by less-than-perfect politicians.
Thinking big is a good thing, and Republicans aren’t wrong about the gas tax. It’s become a flawed mechanism for paying for roadways because drivers are buying less gasoline. With more people expected to drive hybrid or electric-powered vehicles, the gas tax will become only more problematic.
It will need to be replaced, eventually.
But in the meantime, the gas tax is the best tool we have for raising transportation funds.
The Republican-controlled Legislature hasn’t finalized its proposal, but it seems determined to avoid implementing Evers’ proposed 8-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike.
That would be a mistake, in part because the Republican proposal would put more of the financial burden on Wisconsin residents.
Republicans are eying a $10 vehicle registration fee increase as one way to raise revenues and avoid increasing the gas tax.
But let’s not forget that the gas tax captures revenue not only from Wisconsin residents but also from people vacationing here from other states, whether visiting water parks at Wisconsin Dells or spending an afternoon on Geneva Lake. Job commuters from other states also help pay for state roads when they fill up here.
Furthermore, the Republican proposal would likely require issuing more debt to pay for road work, which is how former Gov. Scott Walker avoided implementing gas tax increases. But this only passes a larger tax bill to future generations in the form of interest payments on any debt incurred. In seeking to raise the gas tax, Evers is also proposing to fund road work with less debt.
Republicans toyed with raising the gas tax under Walker, but Walker made any deal difficult to reach by requiring any hike to include a corresponding cut someplace else in the budget.
If Walker had supported an unconditional gas tax hike, would the Legislature have supported it? We suspect probably so.
That Evers is a Democrat and happens to be calling for a gas tax increase seems to be the biggest hangup for this Legislature.
It’s fine, of course, for Republicans to voice concerns about the gas tax and point out its flaws. They should advance proposals for eliminating the state’s reliance on the gas tax as a long-term goal.
But in the meantime, we need the Legislature to take practical steps to resolve a straightforward problem: The state’s roads are falling apart, and the state needs more money to fix them.