Aerial view of the Wisconsin Capitol and surrounding neighborhoods in Madison, Wisconsin.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and construction exec Tim Michels sparred over Wisconsin’s gas tax with Michels saying “you can take it to the bank” that he will never raise gas taxes.

The two Republican gubernatorial candidates yesterday during a live event on conservative Dan O’Donnell’s WISN radio show said they oppose increasing the state’s gas tax. Michels said his opponent was being unfair and disingenuous in response to a question about his position on the gas tax after taking hits from Kleefisch campaign ads for leading groups that wanted to raise the 32.9 cent-per-gallon gas tax.

O’Donnell billed the event as a debate, but he did not ask all of the candidates the same questions. Candidates were allowed 30 seconds to respond if another candidate mentioned them in their answer.

Michels said he would never advocate to raise the gas tax because he’s a fiscal conservative, it’s bad for the groups he led and it would only increase the primary expense for his construction business.

“I have never once said I want to raise the gas tax,” he said. “I think it’s very unfair, very disingenuous to use words lightly to say that I am a gas tax raiser. It’s really upsetting to a lot of people out there.”

Kleefisch, who has pledged never to raise the gas tax, fired back by questioning Michels’ leadership role.

She asked: “Do your people who you say you lead just not listen, or are you just not taking responsibility?”

Michels said not every leader of every group agrees with the majority’s opinion, adding “my word is good, integrity is everything.”

“When I say I’ve never said I will raise gas taxes and I pledge I will never raise gas taxes, you can take it to the bank,” he said.

The exchange came as Dem Gov. Tony Evers is suggesting a temporary suspension of the gas tax using the state’s burgeoning surplus to pay for lost revenue to the state transportation fund.

Rep. Tim Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, who was also on the show, said he is apprehensive about repealing or reducing the gas tax. He said reducing the tax wouldn’t reduce consumer prices much and completely eliminating it could just create more problems with how to fund road improvement projects.

“To do a favor for people to gain votes or to gain popularity is not how I work,” he said. “I want solutions. I want it done right, and I’ll definitely look at it with the Legislature.”

Early voting has begun for the Aug. 9 primary election.

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