About 200 officials from counties and economic development groups gathered at the Iowa Statehouse recently to rally for a gas tax hike on Transportation Day. The Iowa Legislature is considering a bill to raise the state tax on motor gasoline and diesel fuel by 10 cents per gallon to generate funds to repair the state's deteriorating roads and bridges. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad spoke to the group on Transportation Day, saying if legislators pass a plan that reduces commercial property taxes he would approve an increase in the state gas tax, also known as a "user fee."
"The tax is a tax that you get stuck with whether you do something or not. A user fee is something you pay for using the roads," Branstad told reporters. "That's the difference."
Lyle Brehm, county engineer for both Tama and Poweshiek Counties, said he and other county engineers are struggling to keep roads and bridges safe and usable with a budget that hasn't grown since 1989 — the last time the state gas tax was increased in Iowa. "I know all these engineers. We've gone to a lot of different colleges in order to learn our trade. To my knowledge, none of them went to school at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," he said. "Repairing the state's roads and bridges that are in the most critical need of fixing is not going to happen through magic. It's going to happen through money."
While the groups rallied on the 1st floor making the case for the state's need for road improvement, AJ Spiker, chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, issues a press release opposing the gas tax. The press release came out during the pro gas tax speeches providing Dave Scott of the Iowa Good Roads Association the opportunity to respond. Scott ridiculed Iowa GOP chairman A.J. Spiker for quoting Ronald Reagan to make the case against raising the gas tax. "He failed to point out that Ronald Reagan increased the gas tax, called for a gas tax increase and did it by acknowledging that maintaining our road system is the responsibility of government," Scott said.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Following the rally many of the participants attended the Senate Transportation committee meeting in which they were asked to speak to the members about the importance of acting now. Currently 24 counties have bonded for road maintenance totaling over $135 million. Senate members expressed concern both over the bonding for maintenance as well as the shifting burden to property tax. Much conversation centered on the problem of continuing to "kick the can down the road."
The Iowa Soybean Association and other commodity groups and farm organizations support a gas tax increase to raise money to be used for critical infrastructure repairs, points out Carol Balvanz, director of government relations for ISA. If lawmakers won't appropriate the money, they need to find another way to pay for the estimated $215 million annual backlog of critical infrastructure repairs identified by the Iowa Department of Transportation. Farm groups calling for the gas tax increase include Iowa Farm Bureau, General Contractors of Iowa Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Association of County Supervisors and the Iowa Chamber Alliance.
Ag related bills that passed the first funnel deadline are still alive
Snow didn't slow the legislators as they prepared for the first funnel deadline which was March 8 for the 2013 session of the Iowa Legislature. Lawmakers held many committee and subcommittee meetings during the two weeks prior to the deadline. The following ag-related bills were passed out of committee and subcommittee, which means they have survived the first funnel. These bills will now advance to the next step for debate in the legislature. If action isn't taken on them, they may not survive the next funnel deadline and will likely die. These House Study Bills Senate File Bills are still alive:
* HSB 97 BEGINNING FARMING LEASES--Requires the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to lease its available farmland to beginning farmers in three-year leases. Amended and passed 22-0.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
* HSB 129 IDALS BILL--Allows money in the conservation practices revolving fund to be used with public cost-sharing monies and allows a landowner to receive up to $20,000. Strikes a provision requiring the appointment of an IDALS assistant to act as the state metrologist of weights and measures and makes the appointment discretionary. Eliminates octane standards for leaded gas. Changes references to ethanol-blends and allows up to E-15 fuels for standard vehicles. Makes changes to testing and decals. Amended and passed 22-0. A provision was added to reduce required liability insurance for aerial pesticide applicators.
* SF 22 STRAY VOLTAGE--Requires the Iowa Utilities Board to establish protocols for measuring stray voltage. Requires a dairy farmer to give written notice to a utility that the farmer believes the cows are being affected by stray voltage and gives the utility 14 days to take measurements. Passed 13-1.
* SF 165 WATER PLANS—Fiscal Year 2013 Supplementals: A strike and replace in the language of this bill appropriates $85,000 an aquifer monitoring system; $150,000 for enhanced mapping of groundwater sources, $250,000 for technical assistance for drought planning; $475,000 for hydrologic monitoring stations capable of collecting soil moisture and weather information, $75,000 for network or hydrologic monitoring stations and duties for the Iowa Flood Center. Amended and passed 7-5.
* SF 200 SMALL FARM TENANCIES—Strikes exception allowing a farm tenancy under 40 acres to be terminated differently than a larger tenancy. Amended and passed 13-0.
* SF 280 FARM ELECTRICAL INSPECTIONS—Makes future farm electrical installations subject to electrical inspections, payments for fees and other matters.
* SSB 1003 IOWA DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Strikes the requirement that an application for a title for an ATV or snowmobile be notarized. Strikes the Restore the Outdoors program. For wetlands it includes palustrine emergent wetland as protected wetlands. Strikes certain provisions on the power of the DNR to designate protected wetlands and on procedures for the affected landowners to challenge such a designation. Passed 12-0~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
* SSB 1083 IOWA CORN PROMOTION BOARD: Reorganizes the governance of the Iowa Corn Promotion board. Establishes nine districts, with three additional board members elected at-large. Requires the board directors to have served as a director in a district, and limits directors to no more than four terms in office. Requires the board to meet three times a year rather than at least quarterly. Allows the board to implement the provisions, including with staggered terms. Assessment: Strikes the maximum one-cent assessment. Requires that any increase in the checkoff rate be approved by a referendum of producers. Gives the board 30 business days to issue a refund to a producer. Amended and passed 13-0.
* SSB 1180 CAFO CALCULATIONS: Excludes a confinement building from being used to calculate the capacity of a CAFO if the building in not being used. Allows a CAFO that qualifies as a small operation under the new calculation to be exempt from paying compliance fees and filing manure management plans. Amended and passed 13-0.
* SF 264 INDUSTRIAL HEMP: Creates an industrial hemp program for growing hemp with less than 1% THC. Requires IDALS to work with the federal government to license growers, under conditions as allowed by federal law. Establishes civil penalties for violations.
* SF 268 NATURAL RESOURCES SALES TAX: Increases the state sales tax to 6 3/8 cents, with the 3/8 cents going into the Natural Resources Trust fund established in the Iowa Constitution. See SSB 117, HF 92
* SF 278 ALGAE FARMS: Deems as agricultural property for property taxes, property used to grow algae for animal feed and biofuels. See HF 349
* SSB 1207 AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: Transfers the powers and duties of the Agricultural Development Authority to Iowa Finance Authority. Gives the IFA broad authority to make and interpret rules. Requires two members of the board be involved in farming. Includes transitional provisions. See HSB 162~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
* SSB 1208 SOIL & WATER CONSERVATION FUNDING: Appropriates $7 million from the EFF to IDALS for various specified soil and water conservation purposes.
* HF 311 WATER QUALITY: Strikes the requirement for the publication of notice in newspapers for NPDES storm water permits. Allows aquatic herbicides to be applied according to rules adopted by the EPC. Allows an applicant for a permit to divert, withdraw or store water to apply for additional time. Awards such a permit by default if the DNR does not act on the application within 90 days of receipt. Strikes the requirement that a borrower under the on-site waster system program live outside a city. See SSB 1005
* HF 312 MANURE HANDLING COURSES: Requires DNR to include practical and cost-effective methods to limit manure spills and the impact of such spills. Requires DNR to make continuing education course available at its website, the Iowa State University website or at the website of a person selected to teach such a course.
* HF 315 SCHOOL START DATES: Strikes the authority of the Department of Education to approve school start dates prior to the week with the first day of September.
* HF 325 COUNTY AG LOBBYING: Allows a person associated with a county agricultural extension service to act on a legislative program and to engage in lobbying.
* HF 349 ALGAE FARMS: Deems as agricultural property for property taxes, property used to grow algae for animal feed and biofuels.
* HF 376 FUEL SUPPLIES: Prohibits a fuel terminal operator from restricting the supply of gas or diesel because the fuel is unblended, or inhibit a distributor from becoming a fuel blender. Establishes civil penalties.