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SOGLIN (copy)

Mayor Paul Soglin

As governor of Wisconsin, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin would support increases to Wisconsin's gas tax and income tax to fund transportation projects and K-12 education, he said Tuesday.

Soglin, who is one of nine major Democratic candidates vying to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November, said investing in housing, education, transportation and internet access would be his priorities in fostering economic growth.

Investment in infrastructure and school systems is what contributes to a healthy economy, Soglin said during an interview with Jeff Mayers, president of WisPolitics, at a luncheon in downtown Madison.

"Certainly an increase in the gas tax has got to come, and it should be indexed," Soglin said about transportation funding. "There has to be a steady flow of revenues to take care of the state, the county and the town roads. There may have to be other tax increases or redistribution."

Soglin later told reporters he is opposed to the idea of tolling.

To fund public education, Soglin said, the state should remove controls and allow districts to determine how much they want to spend on schools. State funding should be redistributed to school districts based on population and local wealth, he said.

"We recognize what made Wisconsin public schools great in the past and we go back to that. We collect revenues at the state level," Soglin said. "That may require an increase in the income tax."

Soglin also argued that the state's deal with Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn could be scaled back and said some of the $3 billion going to the company would be better spent on improving and expanding internet access throughout the state.

"Extreme Madison liberal Paul Soglin is out-of-touch with Wisconsin — pushing backward policies since he was first elected to office 50 years ago," said Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman in a statement. "Wisconsin can’t afford Soglin’s liberal Madison ideals after all the progress we've made."

Citing a poll his campaign commissioned from the Democratic firm FM3 Research, Soglin characterized the Democratic primary as a "horse race" between himself and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.

According to the poll, conducted March 16-19, Evers led at 30 percent and Soglin followed at 17 percent when voters were read a list of names in the field. With descriptions added to the candidates, the poll put Evers at 25 percent and Soglin at 23 percent. The only other candidate in double digits was state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, whose numbers were in the low teens. Undecided voters accounted for 16 percent of respondents, and 12 percent once descriptions were read.

Soglin pointed to the poll when asked about an assessment by Democratic strategist Tanya Bjork at another recent WisPolitics event that Soglin lacks a path to set himself apart and raise the money needed to compete in the race.

"Everybody out there thinks they're a pundit," Soglin said. "If they want to risk making pronouncements not knowing what they're talking about, that's their business."

Soglin dismissed the notions that he is too old to run for governor — he's 72 — and that Democrats shouldn't run a candidate from Dane County. He again cited his campaign polling to argue neither is an issue.

While Soglin is the oldest candidate in the field, the youngest — 38-year-old former state Rep. Kelda Roys — has been critical of baby boomers for not fully understanding the issues that younger voters face. 

"It’s a non-issue," Soglin said when asked by an audience member about Roys. "It probably is something that would help her campaign to address, but it’s not an issue."

Soglin acknowledged that Democrats likely won't hold back from criticizing each other between now and the August 14 primary, but said all but one of them would unite behind the eventual nominee.

"We will, with the exception of Mike McCabe, who’s not a Democrat, we will stay committed to supporting the winner of the primary, but my guess is that some of the differences between us will start to come out," Soglin said. 

McCabe, who is running as a Democrat but has never been a member of the party, is the only candidate who has declined to promise to support the eventual Democratic candidate for governor.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.