The majority of Wisconsinites are opposed to raising the gas tax to help pay for the state’s roads, setting up a potential roadblock for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers as he and other lawmakers attempt to find a solution to transportation funding.
The finding is one of many from the latest Marquette Law School Poll released Wednesday, which shows Wisconsin voters otherwise largely support major initiatives Evers has proposed in his budget, with a few exceptions.
The majority of those polled support Evers’ plans to legalize medical marijuana, boost state aid for special education, accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage and increase the minimum wage, all of which have been criticized or opposed by Republicans.
Voters, however, are far less inclined to support some of the governor’s proposals regarding education and criminal justice. For example, only 41% of those polled support freezing the number of students enrolled in taxpayer-supported voucher schools and a suspension of new independent charter schools, while 46% are opposed. That result is within the margin of error for that question of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
Meanwhile, 49% support Evers’ proposal raising the age when defendants are considered adults in criminal cases from 17 to 18, while 45% oppose the measure, well within the margin of error.
The poll, which sampled 800 registered voters April 3-7, comes as Evers and Republican leaders wade into an already discordant budget debate. According to the latest poll, Evers is entering the budget season with a 47% job approval rating, while 37% of respondents disapprove of his performance. In January, 39% approved, 22% disapproved and 38% lacked an opinion.
Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature has a 50% approval rating, while 38% disapprove of it and 11% say they don’t know.
Amid a period of tense relations between Evers and legislative leaders — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau — 48% of respondents think Evers is putting forth a good-faith effort to cooperate with them, while just 25% say legislative leaders are trying to cooperate with Evers.
Evers’ budget plan, introduced at the end of February, proposed several measures largely supported by Democrats, prompting Republicans to slam it as a liberal wish list that spends too much and undermines the legacy of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
One of the governor’s few major initiatives to be rejected by the majority of voters is an increase in the gas tax and registration fees. Fifty-seven percent of respondents oppose such a hike, while 39% say they would support it. In January, 52% of respondents said they would prefer keeping gas taxes where they are, while 42% supported increasing taxes and fees to pay for increased spending on roads.
Evers in his state budget called for an 8-cent-per-gallon immediate increase in the gas tax that would be raised to about 10 cents by 2021.
In an attempt to offset the increase, Evers proposed to eliminate the minimum markup on gasoline, which requires retailers to increase the price of gas by 9.18% above the average wholesale price.
Evers has said doing so would lower the price of gas by about 14 cents per gallon. However, the actual effect of the proposal is unclear.
Pushing for pot
A majority of voters think the use of marijuana should be legal in the state, with 59% supporting such a measure and 36% opposing it. An even greater majority of respondents — 83% — think the use of medical marijuana should be legalized, while only 12% say it should not be.
Evers in his budget proposed decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical conditions including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
He also called for allowing records to be expunged for people with previous convictions relating to marijuana possession in small amounts.
The proposal would also permit the possession and use of a marijuana derivative used to treat seizures, CBD oil, without a doctor’s certification.
As for Medicaid expansion, 70% say the state should accept federal funds to expand the program, while 23% oppose the idea.
Fifty-seven percent of voters in Wednesday’s poll support an increase in the minimum wage, while 38 percent oppose such an increase. Evers in his budget called for increasing the state’s $7.25 minimum wage to $9 by 2021, and then raising it annually at the rate of inflation.
Support for President Donald Trump among Wisconsinites remains largely unchanged since the poll was conducted in January amid the U.S. federal government shutdown.
Wednesday’s poll shows 46% of respondents approve of the president’s job performance, while 52% disapprove. In January, 44% approved, while 52% disapproved.
A combined 42% of respondents said they would definitely or probably vote to re-elect Trump, while 54% said they would definitely or probably vote for someone else.
Poll director Charles Franklin said Trump’s approval rating, plus the fact the state is nearly evenly divided between those who identify as Republicans or Democrats cements Wisconsin’s status as a battleground state.
“The state looks very likely to be the pivotal state in the electoral college next year,” Franklin said.
The poll comes just over a week after a Supreme Court election that saw a razor-thin margin of half a percentage point separating the two candidates. The race was reminiscent of the 2018 governor’s race, where just over a percentage point separated Walker and Evers.
Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by less than a percentage point.
Still, Franklin said Wisconsin has trended more Republican after the 2016 presidential election. The poll’s April sample, which includes those who lean toward a party, was 45% Republican and 44% Democratic, with 10% identifying as independent.
Boost for Sanders
Wisconsin’s presidential primary vote is still about a year away, but the poll shows Wisconsin Democrats at this point favor 2016 presidential contender U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont; former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet announced a bid; and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts.
Thirty-two percent of respondents characterized Sanders as “a top choice,” while 29% and 17% said the same of Biden and Warren, respectively.
Meanwhile, 11% of respondents said U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, was a top choice, while 10% said so of Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman who ran an unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Other possible candidates in the race received “top choice” characterizations of between 1% and 9%.