Government and Political Roundup: Assembly leaders say no way to higher gas taxWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin Assembly leaders say there’s no way they’ll approve a higher gasoline tax and a new vehicle registration fee that rises the more you drive.
Wisconsin Assembly leaders say there’s no way they’ll approve a higher gasoline tax and a new vehicle registration fee that rises the more you drive. Those were the two main ideas endorsed yesterday by a bi-partisan commission, which called on motorists to pay an average of 120-dollars more each year to maintain roads and other transportation facilities. But Assembly Republican Majority Leader Scott Suder said raising taxes would only quote, “damage our recovering economy.” He said any increase in the state gas tax is “simply off the table.” The commission proposed a five-cent hike in the gas tax, the first such increase since 2006. It also wanted motorists to report how many miles they travel in a year, and pay a license plate fee ranging up to 204-dollars for those driving 20-thousand miles. Suder and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also struck that down. The commission also suggested higher registration fees for other vehicles, a jump in the driver license fee, and imposing sales taxes on trade-ins. Panel member Bob Cook said he hoped the ideas would lead to a compromise. Commission member John Antaramian, a former state lawmaker and Kenosha mayor, said something has to be done – and while Governor Scott Walker might not like the idea of raising taxes quote, “the options are limited.” Walker’s office did not comment on the panel’s ideas. The governor is expected to propose his own on February 20th, when he submits his next budget package to the Legislature.
Gogebic Taconite’s president and lobbyist were put on the hot seat yesterday about their renewed plans to open a massive iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Lobbyist Bob Seitz told an emotional State Capitol hearing that the mine would proceed if lawmakers pass a bill which speeds up the state’s approval process, and reduces environmental hurdles. Seitz and Gogebic Taconite president Bill Williams were peppered with a series of questions of doomsday scenarios, as they promised that the mine would be efficient and state-of-the-art – and it would be flexible enough to withstand fluctuations in the iron market. Seitz also debunked Democratic claims that the mine would leave out Wisconsin workers, since unemployed miners from elsewhere would move in. He said out-of-state people might be needed for the more specialized functions. But Seitz said Gogebic has a history of hiring locally. Williams said it would create work for builders, electricians, and mining equipment makers from throughout Wisconsin. Seitz also said construction would begin the day Governor Scott Walker signs the bill. Yesterday’s marathon public hearing by the Senate and Assembly mining committees dealt with a package similar to one defeated last March. And G-O-P leaders said the Capitol hearing would be the only one on the subject – even though they promised the measure would change, and could include ideas from a competing Democratic bill introduced on Tuesday.
Wisconsin lawmakers finally wrapped up their public hearing on the new mining bill just after nine last night. Republicans adhered to their 12-hour time limit, and several people who registered to testify were still waiting by the time the final gavel came down. Once again, the argument was jobs-versus-the-environment. But Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said the new mining package will benefit both. The G-O-P measure would set a 480-day time limit to act on state mining permits, relax environmental protections, and limit public challenges to the D-N-R’s decisions. Gogebic Taconite says it needs all those things to build a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties – a project the company said it would revive if the governor and Legislature give the firm what it wants. High school students from Hurley were among those supporting the bill, saying it would provide jobs in a place where there are too few opportunities for young people. But tribal members said the mine’s pollution would contaminate the Bad River downstream, and ruin their wild rice beds. In one of the more pointed exchanges, Bad River Tribal chairman Mike Wiggins said lawmakers would commit “genocide” by putting money and the economy over human health. But Senator Grothman assured Wiggins quote, “Nobody will vote for a bill unless they’re absolutely certain the Bad River will be clean.” Wiggins then asked the senator, “Can I hold you to that?”