Gov. Tony Evers on Monday expressed skepticism about a Republican plan to more than double vehicle title fees and increase car registration by $10 to help pay for the state’s roads.
“It’s amazing to me that we’d think just doubling fees without having the people that use the roads, like people from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, aren’t paying for using our roads,” Evers said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Evers’ public comments, the first since GOP lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget committee wrapped up work on the two-year state budget, come as lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly gear up to vote on the Republican spending plan as early as next week.
Evers will then have the authority to strike parts of the plan or to veto the entire document, which no Wisconsin governor has done.
Evers told reporters at an LGBT pride event on Monday he’s waiting to make a veto determination until a final budget bill is sent to him.
“Certainly there’s lots of things we have concerns about, but at the end of the day we won’t be making any decisions until we see what comes out of both houses,” Evers said.
He added he intends to reach out to Republican leaders to discuss potential changes before the bill comes to a vote.
To raise $484 million in new transportation revenue, the GOP-authored plan would increase title fees, currently $69.50, by $95, amounting to $164.50. Republicans also want to raise vehicle registration fees, currently $75, by $10, which would generate $84 million over the biennium.
The plan contrasts from that of Evers, who proposed raising the gas tax by 8 cents per gallon and indexing it for inflation and increasing heavy truck fees by 27%.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in a statement criticized the gas tax for being a diminishing revenue stream that does not account for more fuel-efficient cars and electric vehicles, which are becoming more prominent.
“The governor won’t be happy until our gas tax is one of the highest in the nation,” Fitzgerald said. “Hiking the gas tax isn’t a long-term solution. It’s a Band-Aid that practically guarantees we’ll have to go back to the taxpayers and beg for more of their money in the future.”
Democrats, joined by Evers, have declared the Republican plan to raise fees unfair because it does not account for non-residents nor total miles driven, as a gas tax would.
Evers also weighed in after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week that Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is delinquent on his property taxes for his Milwaukee condo.
“If he owes money, he owes money and he should pay it,” Evers said, adding that he had not spoken to the lieutenant governor about the matter.
The article reported Barnes is listed as having failed to pay $2,225 in property taxes, interest and penalties for the Milwaukee property.
Barnes disputed the story by providing unconvincing evidence: he sent the Journal Sentinel a copy of a portion of a 2018 tax bill the city treasurer’s office said was really just the original bill. The treasurer’s office reiterated the taxes were still delinquent.
Barnes took to social media Monday to present his side of the story. He articulated his 2017 property tax bill had been sent to the previous owner in Arizona. Still, the Journal Sentinel noted Barnes had not paid his 2018 bill, either.
“Regardless,” Barnes wrote. “You miss a bill, you just pay it. Simple. Check is in the mail. Can’t believe it’s gotten this ridiculous.”
Barnes’ comments came after the newspaper also reported that Barnes had an unpaid fine for outstanding parking tickets.
Separately, WisPolitics.com reported Barnes so far in 2019 has received nine times more hours of security protection than his predecessor, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, received during her last entire full year in her post.
The state Department of Transportation, which oversees Barnes’ protection, has declined to say why Barnes has received increased protection.
Barnes on social media offered his own explanation.
“Security presence would obviously increase if more work is being done,” Barnes wrote.