The first committee votes on a bill that would raise the state fuel tax by as much as a dime a gallon may come this week at the statehouse. For several years, the idea of phasing-in a gas tax hike was considered, but never enacted. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says this year is different.
“It would appear to me that the memberzhip is moving towards 10 cents,” Paulsen says, “and likely all at once.”
More than 200 county and city officials, along with road builders, flooded the statehouse last Wednesday to lobby for a fuel tax increase.
“Clearly the Iowans who are supporting it are making many more contacts to the General Assembly than those who oppose it and, in fact, some Iowans have contacted me that at one time were not O.K. with it and now they’re saying, ‘This is the right thing to do,'” Paulsen says.
Paulsen, Republican Governor Terry Brasntad and Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal have all said it will require “bipartisan support” for a gas tax hike to pass the legislature, however. Gronstal defines that in the senate as 13 Republicans joining 14 Democrats to vote yes.
“It depends on the level of support amongst Republicans,” Gronstal says. “…I’m hestitant to go much further than that.”
Rob Solt, president of Iowans for Tax Relief, questions why legislators aren’t “reallocating” gas tax revenue, so cities and counties get more of it.
“I believe that the DOT has found $215 million of needs, but I think that that $215 million can come out of the resources they’re already getting,” Solt says.
Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, where a bill on this subject may emerge this week. Bowman says the DOT has already cut and reallocated for several years.
“I don’t think we can get ourselves out of this problem by being more efficient,” Bowman says. “We continue to look for efficiencies — and that’s what we need to do — but we need additional revenue to really solve the problems.”
And the Iowa DOT’s director says while an immediate, 10-cent hike in the tsate gas tax will raise enough to address next year’s $215 million shortfall, vehicles will continue to get more fuel efficient — and reduce the number of gallons of gas sold in Iowa. In addition, construction costs will continue to rise as federal tax money for transportation projects is expected to remain flat.