Leaders from Iowa’s construction industry say heavy-equipment manufacturers and companies that work on road and bridge projects are suffering through a “depression” and it’s time to increase the federal gas tax as well as the state gas tax to pay for more road and bridge construction.

“What we need is a long-term commitment so we can make long term plans,” says Robert Cramer, president of the Associated General Contractors of Iowa.

Within the past couple of years Cramer’s Des Moines-based company bought a 165-ton crane that cost $1.3 million. But Cramer says many firms are reluctant to make that kinds of investment because they’re not sure government financing of road and bridge construction will be steady.

“The (federal economic) stimulus money was a nice shot in the arm, but it was just a one-year or two-years-worth of work,” Cramer says, “so a long-term funding plan would help us know that we can make investments in equipment and know that we’re going to stay busy.”

The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon and it hasn’t been raised since 1993. Andrew Goodman, president of the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association, says Iowa’s transportation infrastructure is deteriorating and gas tax increases would fuel rebuilding.

“We have increasing traffic across the state and increasing load sizes over the last 50 years since there were major improvements in the infrastructure,” Goodman says. “We need to get back in and reinvest and rebuild the infrastructure so that our economy can not only survive but can grow and can prosper.” 

Goodman and Cramer are among the people who plan to speak at a statehouse rally late this afternoon that’s been organized by the road construction industry.  Toby Mack is president of Associated Equipment Distributors — a national group that represents construction equipment manufacturers and he will be there.

“Our industry is in a literal depression. The rest of industry seems to be on a recovery path. We are not. We are clearly — still — in the very depths of it,”  Mack says. “Our industry has lost something like 37 percent of its workforce over the last two years.”

Mack says the rally will hopefully “capture the attention” of the public and policymakers and build support for gas tax increases that would bankroll road and bridge construction.  Today’s rally begins at 4 p.m. on the steps of the statehouse.  Co-sponsors include organizations like the Iowa League of Cities and the Iowa State Association of Counties and companies like John Deere and Caterpillar.