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Eau Claire (WQOW) - As the new legislative session moves along in Madison, one thing to keep an eye on is whether lawmakers talk about a potential hike in the gas tax.
A citizen group created to advise the governor and lawmakers has recommended raising the gas tax to help pay for transportation needs. The group said the state would need $6 billion in investments over the next decade just to maintain the current transportation system.
Right now, the state's gas tax is one of the highest in the country. It's almost 33 cents for every gallon, much higher than what drivers pay in Minnesota ($0.286) and Iowa ($0.22). That wasn't always the case. In 1989, Wisconsin's gas tax ($0.21) was only slightly higher than Minnesota's ($0.20) or Iowa's ($0.20).
The gap has widened ever since and that could help explain why Wisconsin drivers typically pay more at the pump than their neighbors do. Currently, the statewide average in Wisconsin ($3.15) is 14 cents higher than in Minnesota. It's a nickel higher than Iowa's state average.
An Eau Claire committee is also wondering whether an old law has something to do with the higher prices in Wisconsin. That group wants the state to re-examine the minimum markup law. "We'd like to have competition," states Eau Claire City Council Member Dave Duax.
The Eau Claire Fiscal Policy Advisory Committee has its sights set on Madison. The committee wants to engage lawmakers to examine whether the minimum markup law is still needed in Wisconsin.
"A minimum markup requires that every gasoline retailer has to mark up so many percentage points above the cost," Duax explains. "So if they don't, if they try to go below that, then it's an unfair competitive practice and they can be prosecuted by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection."
In Wisconsin, the minimum markup for retailers is around 6%. The law went into effect more than 80 years ago.
"The purpose of the law in the 1930's was to keep the mom and pop gasoline stations alive. Well, look around town," Duax says. "There aren't any mom and pop stations anymore."
The city is now reaching out to state lawmakers.
"All the time when I was growing up, we always noticed that gas prices in Eau Claire seemed to be higher than everywhere else and it is an interesting dilemma and I think we need to take a look at it," remembers 91st Assembly District Representative Dana Wachs.
Along with having the minimum markup law evaluated, the city would like to increase competition. Duax says two retailers cover about two-thirds of the market so the city is hoping to attract new businesses to the area.
Several years ago, then-Senator Dave Zien pushed for legislation that would've suspended the minimum markup law for one year, but the bill wasn't approved. Duax says the Eau Claire committee will look back at Zien's efforts to see if there's any information they can use going forward.
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