Iowa’s ag secretary says rural roads and bridges are in poor shape and it’s time to raise more tax dollars to finance the repairs. Last week Republican Governor Terry Branstad said “next year’s the year” to raise the state gas tax and Ag Secretary Bill Northey, a fellow Republican, says “it would seem” it’s time for an increase.

“Boy, you can see a lot of problems in the countryside,” Northey says. “Bridges, gravel roads, certainly the other, even the paved roads in the countryside…We can see it in the state system as well and so I hear from a lot of folks that we need to find additional ways to repair some of those.”

The state’s gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1989. DOT officials say this year the state is $215 million behind in maintenance and new construction in the state’s transportation system and the backlog of projects will grow worse. Northey says the governor made the right move this past year in redirecting some money within the DOT toward road projects, but there now may be no alternative to raising the state tax on motor fuel.

“I’m afraid that we’re seeing our infrastructure go backwards right now, at least with the current rates,” Northey says. “…Folks, you know, 10 and 20 years from now are not going to thank us if we don’t do our share.”

Some Republicans say they’re not interested in raising any taxes, including the gas tax.

“I hear a lot of folks in the countryside that don’t want more taxes that will say these are user fees that are necessary to make sure that we have the roads that we need and the bridges that we need repaired,” Northey says.

Northey made his comments today during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.

Motorists currently pay a state tax of 21 cents per gallon on unleaded gasoline, 19 cents per gallon on ethanol-blended fuel and 22-and-a-half cents per gallon on diesel. A task force appointed last year by the governor recommended the state’s gas tax be raised and called for new fees on electric vehicles, hybrids and vehicles that run on natural gas or propane. Branstad said last week a gas tax increase should be coupled with “comprehensive” tax reform, so Iowans will be able to see their overall tax burden is reduced.