Voters Strongly Support Higher Gas Tax
So maybe Republicans should embrace it as a solution.
The ground shifted a bit last week in discussions on transportation finance.
The Transportation Development Association (TDA) released a poll of likely Wisconsin voters conducted two weeks ago. The pollster, Gene Ulm, is well known to Wisconsin Republicans. For several decades, Ulm’s firm, Public Opinion Strategies, has done survey research for them.
- Three of four voters support a gas tax increase. A 10-cent increase would cost motorists who drive 12,000 miles/year a measly $4-$5 a month. Most of those polled are fine with that.
- Voters oppose increased reliance on borrowing for road work. While elected officials talk of “living within our means,” when it comes to transportation neither Governor Scott Walker nor Governor Jim Doyle could deliver on that slogan. Their answer to stagnant gas tax revenue has been billions in new road debt. As a result, debt service under Doyle and Walker has tripled. Think of someone with $75,000 in income who uses a credit card to live a $100,000 lifestyle. Unsustainable.
- Nearly half of those polled think road conditions are getting worse. The Department of Transportation concurs. Without a hefty boost in highway rehabilitation funds, it forecasts a doubling of miles rated in “poor” condition.
- Voters oppose extended delays in SE Wisconsin freeway work. Walker said last year that freeway reconstruction would halt “for the foreseeable future” after (partial) completion of the Zoo Interchange. Yet large sections of I-94 and I-43 are shot. If not rebuilt, the state instead will spend hundreds of millions on short-term, patchwork repaving. It’s like throwing a layer of shingles on a house you know needs to be torn down.
Conventional wisdom holds that opposing a higher gas tax is “good politics.” Conventional wisdom has been wrong on many counts in the last two years. Is this another instance?
George Mitchell is a former journalist who has held positions in federal, state, and county government and served as a consultant to various governmental and private sector groups.