Three Republicans and eight Democrats on the Senate Transportation Committee have voted to raise the state gas tax by a dime a gallon.

“I think it’s high time we do this,” said Senator Tom Rielly, a Democrat from Oskaloosa who is chairman of the committee. “…It’s about improving the safety of our roads and putting people back to work.”

Senator Daryl Beall, a Democrat from Fort Dodge, was among the committee members who voted yes.

“I see it as a user’s fee rather than a tax,” Beall said.

The proposal would raise the state tax on motor fuel by five cents on January 1, 2013 and by another nickel on January 1, 2014. Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, voted for the two-tiered hike.

“It’s an economically-important tool to have great infrastructure in the state of Iowa,” Bowman said. “It’s potential jobs and it’s going to be a benefit for all Iowans.”

Senator Jim Hahn of Muscatine was one of the two Republicans on the Transportation Committee to vote no.

“Look what the gas price has done in just the last week,” Hahn told reporters after the meeting. “It’s a hard time to try to make people pay more for gas.”

The other Republicans on the committee to vote no was Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale. Zaun told reporters he asked his constituents about the issue during a recent town hall meeting.

“And I didn’t have anyone that said they wanted me to support it, other than cities and counties,” Zaun said this afternoon.

Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, supports the gas tax increase and voted for it this afternoon in committee.

“Over 40 percent of our roads are considered poor or mediocre,” McCoy said during today’s meeting. “The fact is this will not wait. It is something that must be done.”

A slightly different proposal awaits debate in the House Transportation Committee. That bill would raise the state tax on motor fuel by eight cents by the spring of 2014 and it also proposes a series of increases in registration fees for vehicles, like a new $100 annual fee on vehicles that run entirely on electricity, propane or natural gas rather than gasoline or diesel.