Lobbyists representing a wide variety of clients — including road builders, farmers and bankers — are sharpening their pitches for raising the state gas tax. 

The latest statehouse forum to air the issue was a subcommittee meeting in the Iowa Senate today, nearly a week after the top Republican in the House suggested the campaign to raise the state gas tax was “losing energy” and lacked enough support to win approval in the legislature. Three senators sat down at a table and about three dozen lobbyists surrounded them to discuss a bill that would raise the state gas tax by a dime over the next two years.

James Piazza of the Heavy Highway Contractors Association made this appeal to legislators: “There is critical mass this year, with agricultural groups, business and industry groups, coming together in agreement that we need to address this critcal problem…It’s time for public safety and for economic development and to put folks in the construction industry back to work and we’re asking for that leadership now.”

Lindsey McQuarry, a lobbyist for Iowans for Tax Relief, offered the opposing view: “This is absolutely the wrong time to be raising taxes on Iowans. This is a tax that will affect almost every Iowan and (it would be coming) at a time when gas prices are predicted to spike.”

Dave Scott, a lobbyist for the Iowa Motor Truck Association and the Iowa Good Roads Association, offered a rebuttal to that. “I’ve heard that more than one time, but I’ve never heard anybody say when would the right time be,” Scott said.

Tom Fey of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council stressed the job-creation angle. “We’ve been significantly hard-hit during these recessionary times and our people want to work and contribute to society and create economic growth in this state and this is a very important measure that will just do that,” Fey said.

Kellie Paschke, a lobbyist for the Petroleum Marketers of Iowa, lamented that she felt like a “skunk at a wedding” for raising objections to the gas tax hike.

“Our primary concern would be the competitive disadvantage it places many of our retailers at, particularly in border communities where they have to compete with states like Missouri who have significantly lower fuel taxes,” she said.”Every sale that is lost to an Iowa convenience store or an Iowa retailer that sells fuel results in lost jobs for Iowans.”

The lobbyist for the Iowa Good Roads Association responded. “Kellie, you’re not invited to my wedding,” Scott said, laughing along with Paschke and others in the room. “But I would say to the marketers out there, you know, apparently then, there will never be a right time for those people either. If they have a tax advantage, they’re going to want to keep it. If they’re at a disadvantage, they’re not going to want to increase it so, again, they will never, ever support a gas tax increase.”

A lobbyist for the Iowa Bankers Association described an increase in the gas tax as a “huge economic development issue” and Mindy Larsen Poldberg of the Iowa Corn Growers Association called raising the gas tax a “priority” for her group.

“In the rural areas, we see an essential need,” she said. “We have a lot of bridges that are in disrepair, that are embargoed today and need to be fixed.”

Scott Hedderich of the Renewable Energy Group says the 10- to 12,000 trucks that bring beans to his company’s two biodiesel plants in rural Iowa are torn up by the poor road conditions.

“I’ll tell you personally as someone who commutes back and forth to Ames, I’d rather pay a few cents more on my own gas tax than the $500 I had to pay for new shocks and springs on my own vehicle,” Hedderich said.

Fifteen different lobbyists made their case during the 22-minute meeting. Only three expressed opposition to a gas tax increase. It’s unclear what’s next for the issue. A bill that would raise the gas tax by a dime is eligible for debate in the Senate Ways and Means tax-writing Committee at any time.