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Beltline traffic (copy)

Vehicles drive on the Beltline in Dane County.

Republican legislative leaders signaled that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to fund road repairs with a gas tax increase won’t move forward.

Evers proposed in late February an eight-cents-per-gallon tax increase. He called it “the largest biennial investment in transportation in Wisconsin state history.” He also called for indexing the tax to inflation, which would increase it by about a penny annually, and raising heavy truck registration and new car title fees. The annual vehicle registration fee, however, would stay at $75.

Altogether, the proposal would raise about $608 million over the next two years for roads.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday that Republicans on the budget-writing committee have ruled out a gas tax increase, but are considering raising registration fees, title fees and heavy truck fees. He did not specify how much fees may increase.

Fitzgerald was not available for an interview Friday afternoon and spokesman Dan Romportl declined to provide a comment to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“Once again, Republicans are failing to offer a serious long-term transportation funding solution,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in response. “The condition of our state highways are a national embarrassment … Without a meaningful transportation funding solution, our state’s transportation crisis will only worsen and the cost to taxpayers will continue to skyrocket.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was also not available for an interview but said in a statement issued through a spokeswoman that a gas tax increase “would be tough to get done in this budget.”

Vos also said he was “glad to hear Sen. Fitzgerald and the Senate agree” on the need for new transportation money.

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In the 2017-19 budget biennium, transportation funding became a sticking point among the two legislative houses, delaying passage by 10 weeks. Some Republicans in the Assembly supported a gas-tax increase while others in the Senate said existing funding should be spent more efficiently.

A Marquette Law School Poll last month found a majority of Wisconsinites oppose a gas tax increase.

Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson said in an interview that he was a bit surprised by Republicans’ opposition to the gas tax but encouraged to see them identifying sources of sustainable, ongoing revenue.

He said a gas tax is more equitable than vehicle fees because those who use the roads more would pay more money to maintain them. He also said the gas tax would be less costly to Wisconsin residents because the cost would be passed along to out-of-state drivers as well, whereas registration fees would not.

Thompson estimated that the gas tax would cost a person driving an average car with average gas mileage about $40 a year. The state’s annual registration fee would need to increase by more than $60 to raise the same amount of revenue, he said.

Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Evers, said nearly doubling fees is “not a solution that’s fair for the people of Wisconsin.”

Thompson said he wouldn’t rule out Republicans’ idea to raise vehicle fees, in part, because he was waiting to hear specifics on their plan.

“I certainly want to leave the door open for compromise,” he said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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