Governor Walker open to increasing gas tax to access federal funding

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — After steadfastly refusing to consider a gas tax increase last year, Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday he would be open to the idea to access federal infrastructure funding provided there are corresponding tax savings elsewhere.

Walker told reporters he was being consistent with his position on gas tax increases first voiced in 2014, even though he threatened to veto the budget last year if it had a gas tax hike. Senate Republicans joined with Walker in opposing the gas tax hike, which led to the budget being two months late before a compromise was reached that included additional borrowing and delays in road construction projects.

"I'm willing to look at ways to add to our revenue in the transportation budget as long as we have a net neutral or, ideally, a net reduction for the overall burden of the tax burden in the state," Walker said. "In the future, my position is the same as the past."

Assembly and Senate Republican leaders, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who supported a gas tax increase last year only to be rebuffed by Walker, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Walker said in 2014 he'd be open to a gas tax increase if there were equal cuts elsewhere, but in September 2016 he threatened to veto any budget with a gas tax increase. Assembly Republicans released a plan in May 2017 that applied the state's 5 percent sales tax to fuel purchases while also lowering the 32.9-cent-per-gallon gas tax by 4.8 cents per-gallon. But their total plan would have raised taxes $433 million over two years, based on an analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Walker said it was because that plan raised taxes overall that he opposed it.

Walker's renewed openness to a gas tax increase comes after President Donald Trump on Wednesday called for Congress to spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure across the country. However, he didn't promise that the federal government actually would provide that much money for roads, bridges, rail and waterways. Instead, his plan relies on state and local governments working with private investors to come up with much of the cash.

Walker, a Republican like Trump, said he hoped the federal government would contribute at least 80 percent of the funding with the state share at 20 percent, not the other way around. Walker said he would work with Wisconsin's congressional delegation, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, to get a "sizable" infrastructure package for the state.

"Certainly we're willing to invest to obtain those dollars to grow and build our infrastructure here," Walker said.

Walker said he hadn't looked specifically at a gas tax increase in order to access federal dollars, but he's also not ruling it out like he did last year.

"It doesn't mean we're going to do it," he said of the gas tax increase. "The only way we would consider it is if there's an actual reduction in the overall tax burden of the state."

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