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Julio DeJesus pumps gas for 98.9 cents a gallon on March 30, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP) Julio DeJesus pumps gas for 98.9 cents a gallon on March 30, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP)

Julio DeJesus pumps gas for 98.9 cents a gallon on March 30, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP)

By Laura Schulte October 6, 2022

Johnson leaves out context in claim that Barnes supported a gas tax hike

If Your Time is short

  • The Evers administration did propose an 8-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase in 2019 — and Barnes was part of the administration.

  • But that proposal was accompanied by the planned elimination of the minimum markup for fuel, which could have actually decreased the price at the pump overall.

As gasoline prices continue to fluctuate, trending higher after a recent dip, the two candidates running for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate in November are pointing plenty of fingers. 

In this case, it is U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., claiming that old policies supported by Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor, would have made gas prices even higher.

In a TV ad, Johnson lists off a number of accusations against Barnes, including this one: that Barnes "supported a 20% increase in the gas tax." 

That seems like, well, a lot.

So, let’s take a look. 

Johnson doesn’t consider full gas tax proposal

When asked about the claim, Alec Zimmerman, Johnson’s communications director, shared a link to a May 2019 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that described a proposal from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to increase the gas tax by 8 cents per gallon in order to rebuild and repair more roads. 

At that time, the gas tax was 32.9 cents per gallon, and would have increased to 40.9 cents per gallon, but the proposal was rejected by the Republican-led Legislature. 

There is no mention in the story of Barnes, his opinion at the time, or any involvement by Barnes in crafting the proposal — nor did Team Johnson provide any evidence of it. But Barnes was — of course — a member of the Evers administration, and did not so far as we could tell speak out against it. 

Under the Evers plan, the increase would have been about a 24% jump in the gas tax — not too far off of what Johnson claimed. 

But the Johnson claim looks at only part of the puzzle. 

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There were many news articles written at the time about the Evers proposal — and Johnson’s team conveniently chose one that touches on the proposal only in passing, and does not get at the details.

All of this should be familiar to regular PolitiFact Wisconsin readers: In April, we rated Half True a claim by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that Evers "tried to make us pay even more at the pump by hiking the gas tax." 

As we noted in that item, and as was widely reported at the time, the gas tax increase was coupled with a plan to eliminate the minimum markup on motor vehicle fuel, a law that bans selling fuel below cost to attract customers. According to news reports at the time, repealing that measure could have saved drivers as much as 14 cents per gallon. 

As with the gas tax increase, Republicans rejected eliminating the minimum markup law, even though former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, once made a similar pitch.

To be sure, various looks at the economics behind the minimum markup law showed that, by now, much of that savings would have been eroded by other factors such as inflation.

Although the Evers administration — and therefore, presumably, Barnes — did support a jump in the gas tax, it also proposed other measures that would have, at least temporarily, reduced the price at the pump for Wisconsin drivers.

That information is ignored by Johnson in making the claim.

Our ruling

Johnson claims that Barnes "supported a 20% increase in the gas tax."

Although the Evers administration — and, by association, Barnes — supported an 8-cents-per-gallon increase in 2019, the plan also called for the elimination of the minimum markup on fuel, which had the potential to decrease the price at the pump by 14 cents. 

Our definition of Half True is a statement that is "partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."

That’s our rating for this one.


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Johnson leaves out context in claim that Barnes supported a gas tax hike

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