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    Wisconsin Senate Votes to End Routine Gas Tax Hike

    Opponents argue it will cut the $3.2 billion transportation fund by $5.1 million if approved.

    MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin motorists could get a break at the gas pump after the Senate approved Tuesday to end the state's automatic increase in the gas tax each year starting in 2007, reported the Associated Press.

    The bill would also move up a planned penny cut in the portion allocated to clean-up projects by one month, according to the report.

    A handful of lawmakers pushed unsuccessfully for years to end the automatic annual increase for inflation that began in 1985. But support for the measure grew following high gas taxes this summer and swelled after the issue became a hot topic among the community.

    The top two Senate Republicans initially opposed the bill but ended up voting for it Tuesday, while the top member of the Assembly promised a vote next week after initially expressing some reservations about the bill, according to AP.

    Supporters said in the report the current system involves taxation without representation. Opponents said the bill would shortchange the $3.2 billion transportation fund by $5.1 million in the two-year budget that began July 1. They said the likely cuts would come at the expense of rural districts, delaying needed road projects, AP reported.

    "Identify what you want to cut first before you start cutting like this," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, according to the report

    The Senate voted 20-13 to approve the bill, which next goes to the Assembly. If approved, the bill would go to Gov. Jim Doyle for his review.

    Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow told AP the governor would consider any measure lawmakers sent to his desk, but wanted assurances the legislation would maintain needed funding for safe roads.

    Wisconsin's gas tax -- now 29.9 cents a gallon plus 3 cents a gallon tacked on to clean up old gas stations and other environmental projects -- is already one of the highest in the country. The bill would eliminate indexing after the increase slated for April 1, when the tax is scheduled to increase 0.8 cents a gallon.

    Lawmakers and the governor had already approved cutting a penny from the portion of the tax that goes toward environmental clean-up projects on May 1. The bill would move that up to April 1, AP reported.

    The net impact would be a 0.2-cent decrease in the taxes motorists pay beginning April 1, while the 2007 increase --and those planned in future years -- would be wiped out.
    Moving up the penny reduction would cut about $3.2 million from the Petroleum Environmental Cleanup Fund Award, AP reported.

    Assembly Speaker John Gard announced that the Assembly will vote on the bill next week. Gard has raised concerns that the $5.1 million cut in the transportation fund could delay road projects. He said in the report lawmakers will work on a long-term solution to those concerns and expected the bill to pass, according to AP.

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