Iowa Democrat lawmakers expressed willingness last week to discuss an increase in the state's gasoline tax, but Republican legislative leaders don't want a gas tax increase—at least not this year.
Senate president Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, says he's found support for raising the tax to raise more revenue to repair the state's deteriorating roads and bridges. That includes backing from Iowa Farm Bureau and chamber of commerce officials. "The streets in many small towns and in rural areas that serve farmers are just falling apart on us," he says. "It's time for us to take the bull by the horns and get a bipartisan effort to approve a gas tax increase."
Senate minority leader Jerry Behn, R-Boone, says he doesn't see broad support for raising the gas tax this year. "I don't know whether you can say anyone will vote for it or not," says Behn. House speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, declined to say whether a gas tax bill was off the table this session and made no effort to express support for the idea.
Republican legislative leaders are cool toward possible gas tax rise
Paulsen pointed to an Iowa Department of Transportation report issued last week that recommended $50 million in cost efficiencies in spending of money from the Iowa Road Use Tax Fund, which receives about $1.2 billion annually. The money saved from these cost-reduction measures would be used for road improvement projects. "We are making a commitment to make sure every one of those Road Use Tax Fund dollars is spent wisely," says Paulsen.
Lawmakers have been talking about the potential for a motor fuel tax increase this session. Senator Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said last Wednesday the he expected his panel to approve a bill within the next two weeks that would raise gas taxes by 8 to 10 cents per gallon. Governor Terry Branstad last week repeated his pledge not to propose a gas tax increase, citing the state's unemployment rate. But he pointedly added that he wouldn't threaten a veto of a gas tax bill.
Branstad announces $50 million in Road Use Tax Fund efficiencies
Branstad announced last week that the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) had found $50 million in efficiencies to be put toward the Road Use Tax Fund. The fund is used for repair and construction of Iowa roads. In December, the governor asked the Iowa DOT to identify operating efficiencies as an alternative to raising the gas tax this year. Some of the cost-saving measures that are being proposed by the state DOT will require legislative action and approval by other agencies.
Many of the DOT's proposed measures are one-time savings. Legislators officially introduced the fuel tax bill last week, HSB 547. The timing of the bill allows the DOT efficiencies to be used in 2012, and then raises the fuel tax beginning in 2013. Iowa Corn Growers Association policy states "We support a fuel tax increase to fund transportation improvements to existing transportation infrastructure in the state of Iowa." For more information on the Road Use Tax Fund Efficiency Report, click here.