"For decades, the state’s gas tax has been among the highest in the nation."

Scott Walker on Monday, June 27th, 2016 in a letter to Department of Transportation officials

Walker: 'For decades, the state’s gas tax has been among the highest in the nation'

Gov. Scott Walker claimed that for decades Wisconsin has had one of the highest gas taxes in the nation. Is he right? (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel file photo)

Gov. Scott Walker has been adamant that he does not want to increase taxes to fund highway projects, unless cuts are made elsewhere in the state budget.

Revenue from the tax has been stagnant in recent years and many road projects have been delayed due to financial woes.That led the state in November 2015 to approve $350 million in borrowing over two years.

In a June 27, 2016, letter to Department of Transportation officials, Walker opposed raising gas taxes to fund infrastructure upgrades. Part of his reasoning was that Wisconsin residents already pay too much in taxes.

"For decades, the state’s gas tax has been among the highest in the nation," Walker wrote.

Let’s see if Walker is right.

About gas taxes

Gas taxes in the state help fund highway and roadway projects. Many frame the tax as a pay-for-use fee, meaning those who use the roads are shouldering the bulk of the cost of maintaining them.

It’s an excise tax, which means the tax is paid when the purchase is made. The gas tax is included in the posted price at fuel stations.

A gas tax was introduced in Wisconsin in 1925. At the time, the highway system was funded through license registrations and property taxes. The initial tax was two-cents per gallon and in 1931 increased to four cents.

Beginning in 1985, legislators changed the system so the gas tax would be adjusted annually, based on the Consumer Price Index. The idea was for it to match inflation. At the time, the tax was 16.5 cents per gallon.

In 2005, the legislature stopped the annual adjustment and the last increase to the tax was made in 2006. Now, the state taxes 30.9 cents on each gallon of gas.

Among the highest in nation?

As of the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Wisconsin drivers are taxed 51.3 cents per gallon for all gas purchased. Of that, 30.9 cents per gallon goes toward the state and the rest goes to the federal government.

In comparison, the national average for state taxes on gasoline sales is 21.9 cents per gallon -- about 9 cents lower than in Wisconsin.

That places the state in seventh for highest gas taxes. The state with the highest gas taxes -- California -- tacks on 39.5 cents per gallon to gas prices.

So, for the most recent year, Walker’s claim is on target. The state’s gas taxes are "among the highest in the nation."

How about "for decades"?


Walker’s team pointed us to gas tax numbers from the Federal Highway Administration.The government agency, part of the Transportation Department, compiles and shares information on state gas taxes. They cited six years in particular -- 1980, 1981, 1986, 1999, 2000, 2014.



Tax rate (cents per gallon)





















For five of the years, Wisconsin was in the top eight. For three years, it broke into the top five.

But we wondered if Walker’s team cherry picked those years, so we checked gas tax rates for all 50 states from 1980 to the present.

After ranking 16th in 1980, Wisconsin gas tax rate has consistently been among the top 10 highest in the nation for more than 30 years. The state topped the ranking in 1988. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the state’s taxes ranked among the top five highest, ranking second in 2003 and 2004.

Our rating

In a letter to transportation officials, Walker wrote "For decades, the state’s gas tax has been among the highest in the nation."

He backed up his claims with federal data showing Wisconsin has been among the top 10 states for the highest gas taxes in the nation for more than 30 years, even topping the chart in 1988.

We rate the claim True.