Just Fix It Wisconsin

George Mitchell: A transportation fact check 7/19/2016

7/19/2016, Right Wisconsin – “Wisconsin’s gas taxes are already almost 50% above the national average.”

So begins a form letter that a conservative group is urging you to send to your state legislator.

It’s untrue.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) maintains an authoritative state-by-state summary of gas taxes.

API reports that Wisconsin’s 32.9 cents/gallon state gasoline tax  compares with the national average of 29.78 cents/gallon.  The Wisconsin rate is thus 10.5% higher than the national average.  (If federal gas taxes are included, the Wisconsin rate of 51.30 cents/gallon is 6.5% higher than the national average of 48.18 cents/gallon.)

The “almost 50%” claim is typical of the pernicious half-truths that infect so many political debates.  It compares Wisconsin’s excise tax on gasoline and the excise tax imposed by other states.  It excludes the fact that other states impose a variety of additional taxes — such as a general sales tax — on gasoline.  When all state taxes on gasoline are included the 50% claim evaporates.

So if you send that letter to your legislator you might want to put an asterisk after the first sentence.

But even if the 50% claim is bogus, isn’t it still true that Wisconsin motorists pay more than the national average?

No.

Wisconsin and other states rely mainly on gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees to finance their highway and other transportation costs.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Wisconsin ranks 35th “when states are compared on all registration charges levied for both state and local registration-related costs.”

In other words, motorists in two-thirds of the fifty states pay more in taxes and fees than do Wisconsin drivers.  (As I recently reported here, the average driver in the four neighboring states pays 61% more.)