- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican state lawmakers openly sparred Monday over whether to consider raising taxes and fees to improve Wisconsin’s roads, with Gov. Scott Walker saying he plans to stand by his promise not to do so.

The fight over how to plug the state’s nearly $1 billion transportation budget hole is dividing Republicans and is expected to be one of the most difficult challenges for the GOP-controlled Legislature next year.

The in-fighting played out several ways Monday, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos releasing a video of himself taking a bumpy ride on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance to make a point about the need for a long-term solution to improve Wisconsin’s roads.

Wisconsin’s 32.9-cent per-gallon gasoline tax has not been increased since 2006.

Vos believes raising gas taxes and vehicle registration fees should be considered to help pay for roads.

Within minutes of Vos‘ news release linking to his YouTube video, two of his fellow Republicans responded by repeating their opposition to any gas tax increase, telling reporters by phone that the focus instead should be on borrowing and finding ways to cut costs.

Vos responded with a news release, saying “It is not more conservative to borrow and spend than it is to actually raise the revenue and allocate it efficiently.” He accused Sens. Chris Kapenga and Duey Stroebel of “fearmongering” by suggesting that some Republicans want to raise gas taxes by 91 percent. There is no plan to do that.

Walker reiterated his opposition to raising taxes without a corresponding decrease.

“I am going to keep my promise to the people,” Walker said.

If Assembly Republicans plan to raise taxes “it would come as a surprise” to voters, Walker said.

The jockeying came the day before an unusual public hearing in the state Assembly about the Department of Transportation’s budget request. More than a dozen groups, ranging from road builders to environmentalists, were invited to speak at the hearing.

Walker’s Department of Transportation budget proposal calls for borrowing $500 million over the next two years and saving $447 million by delaying work on major projects.

Work that would be delayed includes the final phase of rebuilding and expanding Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange and expansion of Madison’s Beltline and nearby roads in the southwestern part of the city that is home to some of Dane County’s fastest-growing business and residential areas. There would also be no money for expanding Interstate 94 from Milwaukee south to Illinois, leaving the project in Racine and Kenosha counties half-finished.

Stroebel and Kapenga told reporters they were on board with Walker’s approach and would not stand for higher taxes.

“We did not come in here to increase taxes,” said Kapenga, a former state Assembly member who is a certified public accountant. “If we go the gas tax route, it is a bad decision for the taxpayers.”

They suggested finding ways to save money first, including hiring an outside consultant to examine which roads projects should be prioritized over the next decade.

The DOT on Monday released a report saying cost-saving moves it’s already taken have saved $100 million this fiscal year.

Vos and others who object to Walker’s plan for more borrowing have not yet released an alternative plan. The purpose of his video, called “Road Work Ahead,” was to show the impact bad roads have on emergency responders, and possibly your own family, in an emergency, Vos said in a press release.

“I can’t even imagine putting a needle in now,” Vos said in the video as the ambulance jostles down the road. He called on other lawmakers to take similar trips with emergency responders around their districts.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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