Gov. Scott Walker told The Associated Press on Tuesday that significant changes will be made to the state Department of Transportation’s proposal to increase taxes and fees on drivers by $751 million, but he did not specifically say what he wants altered.
The budget was submitted to the governor on Friday by Transportation Department Secretary Mark Gottlieb, a Walker appointee. The proposal would raise the gas tax 5 cents a gallon, impose a fee for new purchases amounting to $800 on a $32,000 vehicle, and create a $50 annual charge for owners of electric and hybrid cars.
Walker refused to rule out anything in the department’s budget, including a gas tax increase that he previously opposed.
“In terms of budgets, I’m not making any absolutes on anything right now,” Walker said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m ultimately going to support (the gas tax). The bottom line is, these are just recommendations from agencies. ... There will be significant changes between now and the time we introduce the budget.”
Republican legislative leaders have been tight-lipped about the transportation proposal, saying they need time to study it. But it’s drawn support from road builders, construction unions and local governments.
Walker spoke to the AP from Boca Raton, Florida, where he is attending a Republican Governors Association meeting.
“I’ve said throughout the campaign and before that as governor, there are tremendous needs for transportation infrastructure in the state,” Walker said. “How we get to fulfilling those needs, I think there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Without any changes, the transportation budget faced a roughly $680 million shortfall over the next two years. The department’s proposal relies on the tax and fee increases along with roughly half a billion dollars in general tax revenue to balance and keep major road projects on schedule.
Walker identified the transportation budget as one of the “key areas” on which his administration is focused and says he’ll get feedback from lawmakers and the public.
Environmental groups have been outspoken against the fee on electric and hybrid vehicles, in particular, saying it’s a step backward to penalize fuel efficiency. The DOT defends the charge, saying owners of those vehicles aren’t paying their share to help maintain roads since they buy less taxable fuel.
Walker said he didn’t know whether he would submit his two-year state budget to the Legislature when it’s due in January, or push it to February as often happens. He has said he wants to be aggressive in working to pass it, a process that usually goes into June.