The incoming leader of the Iowa Senate is not ruling out a hike in the cigarette tax, or the gas tax.
Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, the Democrat who’ll be Senate Majority Leader when the legislature convenes in January, says it’s “kind of a toss up” as to whether legislators will vote to increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. “In the past several years, we’ve looked at (a cigarette tax increase) as a mechanism to fund some important priorities,” Gronstal says. “It does appear (tax) revenues are coming in pretty strong in Iowa, overall, so we’re a little more hesitant to say we need to enhance revenues.” But Gronstal says a number of legislators consider a cigarette tax increase a public health measure as some studies indicate fewer teens will take up the habit if the price of cigarettes is higher.
In 2005, the Iowa Senate voted to raise the state tax on cigarettes by 36 cents a pack, but the Iowa House never took up the issue.
This past week, the Department of Transportation reported it would collect less money in gasoline taxes which are used for road construction and maintenance, and the Iowa Good Roads Association called for increasing the gas tax. Gronstal says he doesn’t know whether Democrats in the legislature would vote to raise the state gas tax. “I think what needs to happen is for our committees, our people to come in and review the data and the information and make some judgement as to whether or not we believe we have the infrastructure needs being met or not close to being met in this state,” Gronstal says. “If not, we have to look at some mechanism to deal with that….so it’s possible.”
But Gronstal suggests another option to raise money for road construction and maintenance would be to raise the standard $65 license fee for pick-up trucks and make it equal to the fees charged on passenger vehicles. The license fee for anything that’s not a pick-up is based on the weight and value of the vehicle.
For example, a 2006 Ford F-150 pick-up owner would pay $65 for a license, while the owner of a 2006 Ford Explorer would pay $344. According to the latest data from the Iowa DOT, there are over three-quarters-of-a-million pick-up trucks registered in Iowa.