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Walker open to gas tax increase to access federal money

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — After steadfastly refusing to consider a gas tax increase last year, Gov. Scott Walker said on Thursday he would be open to the idea to access federal infrastructure money provided there would be 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 had threatened to veto the budget last year if it included a higher gas tax. Senate Republicans joined with Walker in opposing any proposed gas-tax increase, which caused the budget to be two months late before a compromise was reached that included additional borrowing and delays in road 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 reductions elsewhere. But, in September 2016, he threatened veto any budget with a gas-tax increase, seeming to leave no room for compensating reductions.

Assembly Republicans released a plan in May 2017 that would have applied the state’s 5 percent sales tax to fuel purchases while also lowering the 32.9-cent-a-gallon gas tax by 4.8 cents a gallon. Their plan would have raised taxes $433 million over the course of two years, based on an analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Walker said he opposed the plan because it would have raised the total tax burden.

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 throughout 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 would rely on state and local governments working with private investors to come up with much of the needed money.

Walker, a Republican like Trump, said he hoped the federal government would contribute at least 80 percent of the money and that the state would come up with the remaining 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, as 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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