Gas tax (copy)
Associated Press archives

A proposal to reinstate the annual indexing of Wisconsin's gas tax was voted down on party lines by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.

Democrats introduced the motion as an amendment to a sweeping Republican transportation package. Under the proposed amendment, the gas tax would be indexed to the Consumer Price Index, pending the approval of the Joint Finance Committee.

The first estimated increase would bump the tax rate from 30.9 cents per gallon to 31.6 cents per gallon on May 1, 2017, if the committee approved it. That would increase estimated transportation fund revenue by $3.8 million in 2016-17.

Republicans on the committee waved off the proposal as a drop in the transportation fund bucket and accused Democrats of engaging in political theatrics.

Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the revenue the proposal would generate "is not going to move the needle at all," and questioned why Democrats didn't propose a more substantial gas tax hike.

"Why isn't that proposal here? Because we said no? We've said no to a lot of other things … You just don't want to take that vote to raise taxes by a billion dollars," Nygren said.

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, poked fun at the proposal: "If only we indexed the gas tax …we would have peace in the Middle East and pet unicorns."

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, acknowledged that the proposal was a "drop in the bucket," but said it's a small change that would open the door to a necessary conversation about generating revenue to fund road projects.

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"If we keep going down this road there’s not going to be any road to kick the can down," Erpenbach said.

Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said the Democratic proposal was a "reasonable" one, but not one that would earn his support. 

What the state needs to do, Knudson said, is rein in its transportation spending.

After shooting down the Democrats' amendment, the committee was set to take up the Republican proposal, which cuts Gov. Scott Walker's proposed bonding from $1.3 billion to $500 million. The package includes an additional $350 million in bonding for projects to be approved by the Joint Finance Committee.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.