Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday indicated he would be willing to raise the state's gas tax in order to access federal infrastructure money, but only with a corresponding tax cut elsewhere.
Walker said that's no different from his position during state budget negotiations last year, when he threatened to veto any budget that included a gas tax hike.
"My position is exactly the same as it was four years ago, when I talked in 2014 when I stood for election. I said any revenue increase in the Department of Transportation budget would have to be offset by equal or greater reduction somewhere else so that the overall tax burden does not raise on the people of the state of Wisconsin," Walker told reporters in Madison.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump called for Congress to support a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package to invest in the country's roads and bridges.
Walker said he is hopeful Congress will approve a "sizable package" that maintains the balance of funding shared between the federal government and the states. He said he is "willing to invest to obtain those dollars."
Republican state lawmakers stalled for months last year as they failed to reach an agreement on how to fund the state's roads projects. The 2017-19 budget was completed two months late as a result of the standoff.
The deal they reached included about $402 million in borrowing, new fees for electric and hybrid vehicles, construction delays and a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in December he hopes lawmakers will get "serious" about raising revenues to fund transportation projects in 2018.
"Wisconsin has been, and continues to look for a true leader on transportation funding and Governor Walker’s inability to make a decision still doesn’t fix the roads," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, in a statement.
Walker did not support a proposal from Assembly Republicans last spring which would have cut the state's gas tax and applied a sales tax, reduced the minimum markup on fuel and put the state on track for a flat 4 percent income tax.
"They didn’t offset it, though. They did not," Walker said when asked Thursday about the Assembly GOP plan. "We showed a memo that showed it would be a net tax increase. That’s why I objected to it."
The memo Walker referenced was from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which found showed the net effect of the proposal would have been a $433 million tax increase over two years if all 64 counties with a sales tax applied it to gasoline.
Walker said he felt the state had "more than enough" money to adequately fund transportation projects in the 2017-19 budget.
"In the future, my position is the same as the past. Doesn’t mean we’re going down that road. Certainly we’ll look at what the federal government’s saying," Walker said." If we are able to reduce taxes elsewhere in order to get access to transportation revenues that help us leverage federal dollars, we certainly would consider that. But the bottom line for me on any of this doesn’t mean we’re going to do it, it just means the only way we would consider it is if there’s an actual reduction in the overall tax burden in the state of Wisconsin."
Walker was also noncommittal when asked about a proposal from three Republican lawmakers to revive construction on I-94 east-west in Milwaukee.
Walker abandoned the project — expected to cost about $1 billion — last year, citing local infighting and potential legal challenges. The rebuild is supported by area business groups but opposed by some city officials.
The proposal from Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Reps. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, and Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, would make use of DOT savings to restart the project.
Walker said he hadn't seen the proposal, but pointed to litigation that has stalled work on Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan. It would be easier to move forward with the Milwaukee project if city leaders and business leaders were on the same page, Walker said.
Walker has recently announced that work on I-39/90 and Highway 441 will both be completed one year early.