Last week, a legislative interim committee declined to back any proposals to raise money for road construction. A Department of Transportation report claims at least $200 MILLION dollars a year in additional money is needed to fix a shortfall in funding.
The Iowa State Association of Counties supports a hike in the gas tax coupled with an increase in registration fees for owners of pickups. ISAC executive director Bill Peterson says the reduced fee on pickups, originally designed to help farmers, is outdated. "We can address the needs of farmers by giving them a tax break or a reduced license," Peterson says, "but the average person driving around in a big pickup doesn’t deserve a tax break on their license fee."
Governor Culver says he won’t support a hike in the gas tax, primarily because gas prices are already high. Many lawmakers believe the gas tax idea is "dead" and a pickup registration fee increase is in jeopardy. Peterson calls the current license fee structure unfair. "When you take a look at the cost of licensing one of these new, huge pickup trucks in the state of Iowa — it’s $65. That’s ridiculous," Peterson said.
Other vehicles that are more fuel efficient, he explains, cost five to six times that amount to license. Iowa DOT Director Nancy Richardson says, regardless of the amount of funding her agency receives, roads and bridges will be safe. "Will bridges fall down (without financing)? Absolutely not," Richardson told reporters, "because if a bridge isn’t safe, we, the cities or counties are going to close it. We won’t leave bridges and roads out there for folks to drive on that are unsafe. We will continue to maximize the dollars the most we can and get it on the roads that are worst first…and continue to work to get sufficient funding."
Richardson says the state could be forced to delay many major road repairs and improvements without a major boost in the DOT’s budget.