Walker reiterates opposition to gas tax increase for roads

By Scott Bauer, Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker reiterated his opposition to raising the gas tax to pay for roads on Thursday in the face of Republican legislative leaders who were looking for alternatives to key parts of his budget, including the proposal to cut University of Wisconsin tuition by 5 percent.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker greets attendees in the Assembly Chamber, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, left, prior to delivering his state budget address at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. Walker, a conservative Republican, put forward a surprisingly liberal budget Wednesday that includes a huge boost in funding for schools, sizable tuition cuts for college students and increased tax breaks for the working poor. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker reiterated his opposition to raising the gas tax to pay for roads on Thursday in the face of Republican legislative leaders who were looking for alternatives to key parts of his budget, including the proposal to cut University of Wisconsin tuition by 5 percent.

Walker previously had said he would consider gas tax increases if there were corresponding cuts elsewhere, but he appeared to back away from that approach in his budget address and in comments as he toured the state Thursday in support of his spending plan.

"Now is not the time to raise taxes," Walker told reporters in Milwaukee. "It's not the time to raise gas taxes, it's not the time to raise income taxes, it's not the time to raise taxes on farmers and manufacturers as some have proposed in each of those categories."

Assembly Republicans had proposed cutting unspecified taxes by $300 million and raising transportation-related taxes and fees by an equal amount to pay for roads and rely less on borrowing. Walker's budget would cut nearly $600 million in taxes, including a roughly $200 million income tax reduction. He wants to borrow $500 million and not raise any taxes to pay for roads.

That's led to consternation among key Republicans, especially Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who have been pushing for gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases to be a part of the road-funding discussion.

Republicans are also questioning other key parts of Walker's budget, including the level of funding for K-12 schools, cutting income taxes rather than some other tax and moving state workers to a self-insurance model, which could threaten tens of thousands of health care industry jobs in the Madison area.

"At some point you're going to have to come up with some kind of compromise or cut a deal," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. "That's not going to happen anytime soon."

Walker's budget would abandon work on a 3.5-mile east-west portion of Interstate 94 in Milwaukee near Miller Park between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges. Instead, Walker would spend $31 million on a section of I-94 south of Milwaukee to the Illinois border.

Vos said it's disingenuous for Walker to claim that work is ongoing on the project in Racine and Kenosha counties when he's spending just $31 million on a project that has a total cost of nearly $900 million. The project is a priority for Vos.

The Transportation Development Association, a coalition of road builders and local governments, said Walker's budget doesn't solve the problem and reconstruction of the state's aging interstates "cannot be delayed indefinitely."

On the tuition cut idea, Walker said he was responding to concerns he heard from people about the high cost of a college education.

"My hope would be that those parents and grandparents and students would talk to their lawmakers and that might change their perspective on this," he said.

His proposal to change the way state employees get their health insurance, moving from choosing from a variety of private insurance companies to a self-insurance model, has also ran into strong opposition.

Vos was joined by budget committee co-chairs Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling in raising objections both to making the switch and to Walker's assumption that the move would save $60 million over the next two years.

Walker taps that money to help pay for a $692 million increase in aid to K-12 schools, forcing the Legislature to find some other source if it nixes the self-insurance idea and still wants to give schools as much as the governor proposed.

Fitzgerald said schools will get more money, just not as much as Walker proposed.

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