I can’t help but chuckle at the spinmeisters, currently engaged as consultants or lobbyists for the road builders or trades unions, as they trip all over each other trying to define this election as some sort of mandate to increase transportation revenues, a.k.a. to raise gas taxes. Their arguments are cute but unserious.
Brian Fraley’s recent column posted to Right Wisconsin is one such example. He lays out his argument as follows, “Every single Wisconsin lawmaker who has pledged to meet our economic development needs and invest in transportation infrastructure won on Tuesday.”
Have you ever met a politician opposed to investment in transportation infrastructure? I haven’t. So while, such a claim is largely accurate, it’s essentially meaningless. Most, if not all Wisconsin lawmakers who won on Tuesday supported investment in education. Does that create a mandate to raise property taxes for investing in public schools? Of course not. A majority of lawmakers claiming victory also ran on a reducing taxes. Should we be talking about lowering gas taxes now?
Additionally, I called this claim “largely” accurate because there are exceptions. State Senator Julie Lassa made investment in transportation infrastructure a campaign priority, stating on her website that she, “will continue to pursue common-sense strategies to invest in our transportation infrastructure.” She’s now a former State Senator.
In other races, where the gas tax was used in paid media as a campaign issue, the targeted politicians lost. In multiple seats, politicians were hammered in direct mail, on the radio, and in some cases on TV for supporting gas tax hikes. From the 50th Assembly District to the 68th, in the 18th Senate District, and in several others the candidates targeted specifically for supporting increases in the gas tax were defeated.
Let’s be clear about something, I’m not implying that these candidates lost because they supported gas tax hikes. This election was about far more than any single issue and frankly, outside of reported spending by gas tax supporters against conservative state senators, transportation infrastructure wasn’t a major issue. In the 24th State Senate District for example, Americans for Prosperity staff and volunteers knocked on thousands of doors, talking to citizens about Senator Lassa’s dismal record and about issues important to them. Transportation spending was hardly a blip on the radar screen. The same was true in dozens of other districts where we were active in either a political or issue education capacity.
It’s not technically wrong to say that legislators supporting infrastructure investment won at the polls. Most, if not all, support such investment but it’s a logical leap to imply that legislators won at the polls because of it. Taking things one step further and implying that voters supported politicians because they want to see their gas taxes go up is simply absurd.