By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Monday wouldn’t rule out the possibility of paying for roads without a gas tax increase, as he had originally proposed, a plan that the Republicans who control the Legislature reject.
The Democratic Evers called for an 8-cent a-gallon increase as the centerpiece of his roads-funding plan, along with a variety of other vehicle-fee increases. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Republicans were not going to accept the gas-tax hike, but were looking at a variety of other fee increases.
Evers campaigned on raising the gas tax, saying it was the most reasonable way to pay for roads in the state. Republicans in the Legislature, particularly in the Assembly, have been open to the idea of raising gas taxes in the past. The gas tax in Wisconsin hasn’t increased since 2006, despite a road-funding shortfall that’s led to deteriorating conditions and delays in projects throughout the state.
“Clearly the people of Wisconsin told us during the campaign to fix the damn roads,” Evers told reporters at a news conference to announce a new effort to boost insurance enrollment. “Now, if Republican leadership has an idea how we can magically do that without increasing the gas tax, we’ll certainly be looking for that. But it has to be a sustainable future around this issue of finding money to fix our damn roads.”
Evers said he wants to review the entire transportation plan, and the larger two-year budget, before deciding what he will accept or reject. Evers has held out the possibility of vetoing the entire budget. If he did, he would be taking a highly unusual step, one that would almost certainly delay the adoption of a budget well past the usual deadline of July 1.
Evers also has powerful partial veto powers, which would let him make big changes to the budget as passed by the Legislature without rejecting the entire $83 billion spending plan.
“Frankly, it’s not soup yet either,” Evers said of the budget. “So it’s hard for me to respond to something when we don’t know what the soup is.”
Republicans have previously rejected Evers call to expand Medicaid, a step that would insure an estimated 82,000 more poor people and bring in $1.6 billion worth of federal money that Evers would use to pay for a variety of health-care plans.
Evers on Monday said he still hoped to persuade Republicans to accept Medicaid expansion even as they were looking at other ways to pay for health care.
“We still will be fighting for expansion because it’s the easiest route, it’s the most effective route and it will use the federal money that the people of Wisconsin have already paid for,” Evers said.
At the same time, Evers was moving ahead with a new partnership between the state Department of Health Services and the insurance commissioner’s office to increase enrollment in health insurance.
Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said the objective to enroll more people who are at or just above poverty and often float between being eligible for Medicaid or federally subsidized private insurance sold through the marketplace. Palm said the state, working together with the private insurance market, independent groups, advocates and others, wants to prevent those people from falling through the cracks and not having insurance.
“Obviously it’s the goal of all of us for everybody to have access to affordable health insurance and to be covered to be healthier and more well and that obviously drives down costs for everybody,” Palm said.