It appears lawmakers will adjourn the 2014 session of the Iowa Legislature without taking action on proposals that would have raised additional money to maintain and expand the state’s transportation system. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says those who’ve been lobbying for an increase in the state gas tax have gained no traction.
“I don’t think anything’s changed in that dialogue this session,” Paulsen says.
Efforts over the past few years to raise the state gas tax have fallen short and last fall the Iowa DOT’s director developed a list of other alternatives, like getting rid of the tax exemption for fuel used in farm machinery, to raise funds for roads. None of those alternatives have been endorsed by a legislative committee and Governor Branstad did not include the proposals in his own budget plan. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage who supports increasing the gas tax, suggests now would be a good time for Branstad to change his tune.
“What the governor’s office should do, if they want to divert attention from this other conversation, they should come out in support of the fuel tax,” Byrnes says.
Branstad’s administration is under scrutiny for alleged “hush money” payments to laid off state workers.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock does not sense a groundswell for a gas tax increase.
“I believe that what you’re seeing happen in the Iowa Senate is that people are listening and while attitudes may be changing about that, at the moment they’re not hearing a strong message from the vast majority of their constituents to make those changes,” Dix says.
Representative Byrnes says Republicans in one of the counties in Dix’s district called for an increase in the gas tax in their party platform.
“I don’t get why he’s been so anti, against this when his own constituents are wanting it,” Byrnes says.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has said if a gas tax hike is to pass, it must get bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
“I personally believe we need additional in the Road Use Tax Fund and, if that’s going to happen, it requires a meeeting of the minds,” Gronstal says. “…If we get to that, I am still open to considering (a bill to increase the gas tax) this session.”
Byrnes says he’s frustrated by those comments from Gronstal.
“If you know that we need to do this and you know that it needs to be done, then quit putting up this stupid requirement that says you need to have 12 Republicans in favor of it out of the Senate,” Byrnes says. “If you get 10, take it. It’s still a bipartisan vote.”
In November Governor Branstad said raising the gas tax is “not popular” with Iowans. State transportation officials estimate they are $215 million short of what’s needed to maintain and build new roads and bridges. Iowa’s gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1989.
(Reporting & editing by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson; additional reporting by Darin Swenson of KDEC in Decorah)