Just Fix It Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial: Motorists here pay less to drive cars 7/27/2016

7/27/2016, Wisconsin State Journal – Wisconsin has one of the highest gas taxes in the nation, Gov. Scott Walker keeps saying in opposition to any increase in user fees charged to motorists.

“Raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees without an equal or greater reduction in taxes elsewhere is not an option,” the governor just instructed his transportation secretary.

Wisconsin’s gas tax of 32.9¢ per gallon (which includes a 2¢ environmental fee) ranks 12th highest among the 50 states, according to the latest Tax Foundation comparison.

But that’s a narrow look at what people actually pay to drive a car. And it shouldn’t stop the state from increasing user fees — rather than continuing the governor’s borrowing binge — so major road projects can stay on schedule.

This includes the reconstruction of Verona Road on Madison’s Southwest Side and a wider Interstate 39-90 from Madison to Beloit. Both projects will get people and products where they need to go faster and safer, which is good for the economy.

The governor’s rejection of what would be the first increase in Wisconsin’s gas tax in more than a decade may be good politics. But it isn’t responsible leadership, given pressing transportation needs.

Republicans who run the state Assembly should continue to press for greater funding — with real, not borrowed, money — to maintain and improve roads across the state, not just in southeastern Wisconsin.

Overall, Wisconsin is one of the least expensive states to drive a car.

Here’s why:

Other states, including Illinois and Michigan, apply a sales tax to gas purchases. When that’s included, Wisconsin’s gas tax falls to the middle of the pack for Midwestern states, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau determined last year.

Wisconsin also has a relatively low registration fee of $75 per vehicle. Minnesota and Iowa charge hundreds of dollars for registration, unless a car is old. Illinois charges $101. Michigan’s rate varies from $79 to $206 (and will increase next year, along with that state’s gas tax).

In addition, Illinois has toll roads — collecting more money from over-the-road trucks and other travelers, not just state residents — to help pay for construction.

Add it all up, and driving on Wisconsin’s roads is a pretty good deal. In fact, Wisconsin ranks as one of the least expensive states in the country to own and drive a car, according to studies by GoBankingRates.com and 24/7 Wall St. The online magazines determined Wisconsin motorists benefit from less expensive car insurance rates, gasoline and maintenance costs.

So the governor’s contention that Wisconsin drivers are burdened is wrong. The cost of driving a car in Wisconsin has actually been falling in recent years because of lower gas prices and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Paying for good roads, bridges and public transportation options shouldn’t be so difficult for state leaders.

The governor has held the line on property taxes and essentially exempted manufacturers from paying state income taxes. That easily offsets a modest increase in the state gas tax or registration fee to ensure Wisconsin has a modern transportation system.