ICYMI: Michels Led Groups That Lobbied for Gas Tax Increases

June 27, 2022

ICYMI: Michels Led Groups That Lobbied for Gas Tax Increases

 

[Waukesha, Wis.] — In case you missed it, Wisconsin Right Now uncovered a long history of groups led by Gas Tax Tim Michels that have pushed for state gas tax increases in Wisconsin.

 

Michels wants to take credit for his company’s successes. But when it comes to his company’s spending and involvement in attempts to raise the gas tax on Wisconsin families, he is lying to voters and ducking the blame.

 

Read the full story in Wisconsin Right Now here or read excerpts below.

 

Tim Michels Tied to Groups That Pushed Aggressively for Gas Tax Increases

By Jessica McBride & Jim Piwowarczyk

Wisconsin Right Now

June 27, 2022

 

For years, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels and his family-run company have been involved in groups that pushed aggressively for increases in the Wisconsin gas tax and vehicle registration fees, Wisconsin Right Now has documented.

 

Some of the groups have deep ties to Democrats and the Tony Evers’ administration, which has supported increasing the gas tax. Evers’ 2019-2021 budget proposal would have increased the gas tax and indexed it each year on April 1 to inflation. Indexing is an automatic increase in the gas tax.

 

Michels himself once served as board president of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, and he was on the executive board of the Transportation Development Association. That group’s president has directly advocated for increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

 

Michels touts the fact that he can self-finance and is not beholden to powerful special interest groups; however, for years, he and his company have been part of powerful special interest groups seeking to increase their profits through public contracts that are funded, in part, through things like the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Those fees flow into the state’s Transportation Fund, where they are doled out to public contracts for road and bridge projects and the like. Michels’ family’s company has had nearly $1.2 billion in contracts with the state of Wisconsin for such projects.

 

Over the years, some of these powerful lobbying organizations staked out other positions that aren’t exactly conservative. In the 2007-2008 Legislative session, when Michels was board president of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association (WTBA), for example, the group lobbied against a bill preventing companies that employ illegal immigrants from getting government contracts and loans.

 

That session, with Michels as board president, the WTBA group opposed a bill that would give school districts refunds for the tax the districts paid on the fuel. They also opposed a bill creating an excise tax exemption on gasoline and diesel fuel sold to school districts to transport students. The group appeared at a public hearing in both cases.

 

In other years, the group lobbied against a bill that would have removed automatic hikes in the gas tax, called indexing, and opposed a joint resolution calling “for an advisory referendum on the question of whether the legislature should restore the annual adjustment of the motor vehicle fuel tax rate. The referendum is to be held at the spring 2009 election.”

 

The WTBA group lobbied for a bill to require that sales and use taxes on motor vehicle parts be deposited into the state Transportation Fund (instead of being given to counties and municipalities through state aid.)

 

One of the groups tied to Michels, the Transportation Development Association, was previously led by Tony Evers’ Secretary of Transportation. Another is run by a former Democratic state assemblyman who has repeatedly praised Gov. Evers’ efforts to raise the gas tax and criticized the Scott Walker administration for holding the line on the gas tax.

 

That assemblyman, Robb Kahl, executive director of Construction Business Group, trashed Walker, writing, “Governor Walker has not kept his word to the Wisconsin construction industry. Even though the construction industry supported him in many of his election bids-including his recall election-Governor Walker turned on the industry.”

 

For months, a group of lobbyists (including some affiliated with road-building groups) and other policy advocates tried to recruit an alternative to Kleefisch in the governor’s race and are now supporting Michels.

 

Their concerns focused on perceptions about whether Kleefisch can win but also disgust over Walker’s handling of the transportation budget and his refusal to raise the gas tax to replenish it.

 

As company VP and co-owner, Tim Michels holds significant sway over the positions his company takes publicly and how they spend company dollars to influence decision-making in Madison. The other two top members of the company are his brothers. Michels has said he will divest himself from the family company if he wins the governor’s race.

 

Michels Corp. is currently a Transportation Development Association member. Michels himself personally served on the executive committee for TDA, touting his involvement on his campaign website for the U.S. Senate. TDA directly advocated an increase in Wisconsin’s gas tax. TDA’s former president, Craig Thompson, is now Tony Evers’ Secretary of Transportation. Thompson worked with Evers to propose increasing the gas tax by nearly 40 percent.

 

TDA’s Thompson was a member of the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, “a bipartisan citizen commission formed to outline the transportation funding requirements for the coming decade.” It submitted a report to Gov. Walker in January 2013 titled Keep Wisconsin Moving—Smart Investments, Measurable Results [PDF]. It made recommendations through 2023 that included:

 

Increasing the state excise tax on motor fuel

Adopting a mileage-based user fee for passenger vehicles and light trucks

Increasing the registration fee for weight-based vehicles

Increasing the driver license fee

Repealing the sales tax exemption for trade-in vehicles

 

 

When Tim Michels said he was on the executive board of TDA, the organization had an issue paper on their website entitled “Gas Tax Indexing Works for Wisconsin.” (At the same time, Michels was decrying high taxes as a Senate candidate.)

 

  • The whitepaper says that “transportation advocates were also relieved when Governor Doyle and legislative leaders recently voiced their support for gas tax indexing.”
  • The paper claimed that the repeal of gas tax indexing “would have negative consequences for every transportation program in the state.”
  • The paper concludes by stating that Wisconsin should “be looking to maximize this return by protecting the gas tax user fee system…”

 

As noted, as of April 2022, a Michels Corp. employee sat on CBG’s managerial board. CBG has vocally supported gas tax increases. Construction Business Group’s executive director is Robb Kahl, the former Democratic state assemblyman from Monona, who has repeatedly praised Gov. Evers’ efforts to raise the gas tax and criticized the Walker administration for holding the line on the gas tax. Kahl once said that a 10-cent increase on the gas tax wouldn’t “be enough.”

 

Construction Business Group praised Governor Evers in an April-2019-139-Newsletter sent to members, saying, “FINALLY! An Administration that gets it.” The newsletter praises the Evers Administration’s actions for increasing the gas tax in his first budget, a move that would have led to a nearly 40-percent spike in the gas tax. Construction Business Group was part of Governor Evers’ road funding task force in 2019 that was supportive of raising the state gas tax up to 10 cents per gallon.

Read the whole story here.

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