MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board that he is thinking about proposing that Wisconsin’s gas tax be replaced with a sales tax, a move he says could help stabilize the state’s transportation fund as it faces a $680 million shortfall in the next budget.
Walker mentioned the idea during a meeting with the paper’s editorial board on Monday, the State Journal reported Tuesday (https://tiny.cc/4j1pnx ). His comments come just three weeks before he faces Democrat Mary Burke in the Nov. 4 election.
Neither Burke nor Walker has offered detailed plans for how they would solve the looming transportation budget shortfall. Burke’s campaign had no immediate comment on Walker’s idea.
While Walker offered few details of his idea, he said the change would not result in an overall increase in the tax burden. The existing tax is charged to gasoline suppliers and then built into the price at the pump, which is not subject to the sales tax.
“You’re trying to get the most equitable way to say, ‘How do you cover the people who actually use our roads and bridges and highways?’” Walker said. “If there’s multiple ways that you charge up or fuel your vehicle, then there should be an equitable way to say it’s a sales tax on gas or it’s a sales tax on electricity or it’s a sales tax on natural gas.”
A bipartisan task force that studied Wisconsin’s transportation needs reported last year that maintaining the current system will cost an additional $15.3 billion over the next decade. That’s driven in part by rising road construction costs, but also projected declines from gas tax revenue due to more fuel-efficient cars and fewer miles traveled.
The task force recommended increasing the gas tax, raising driver’s license and commercial vehicle registration fees, eliminating the sales tax exemption on the trade-in value of a vehicle, and adopting a mileage-based registration fee system for passenger vehicles and light trucks.
All of the ideas were rejected by Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Steve Hiniker, executive director of environmental group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, credited Walker with recognizing that the current gas tax structure is problematic because it isn’t indexed to inflation. But basing revenue on a sales tax creates another problem because it will be extremely volatile as gas prices fluctuate, Hiniker said.
Patrick Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, said it was difficult to comment on Walker’s idea until it’s put into context of the entire transportation budget proposal.
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