A legislator who’s been pushing to raise the state gas tax made a passionate pitch on the topic Tuesday night, but the top Republican in the House used his authority to table the idea. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, expressed his frustration during a speech on the House floor.
“You know I hear a lot of: ‘Now’s not the right time,'” Byrnes said. “…I guess I’m curious to know — when is the right time? Are we going to circle a date on the calendar next session and say: ‘That’s the day’?”
The state fuel tax hasn’t been hiked since 1989. Byrnes and other supporters say Iowa’s roads and bridges, especially in rural areas, are crumbling because the state’s road fund is woefully short to meet current demands.
“I’d like to know. When is the right time? Is the right time going to be a reaction?” Byrnes asked. “Is it going to be when we have something fall through a bridge and we have a failure or a death, God forbid?”
Byrnes, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, could not get enough votes in his committee this year to pass a bill that would have raised the state fuel tax by a dime. Byrnes crafted an alternative that called for lowering the state tax to 16 cents per gallon, but charging a five percent tax on retail fuel sales.
“The reason that we will not move a fuel tax this session is ’cause we’re in a re-election year and I think that’s disappointing,” Byrnes said. “I think it’s disappointing to Iowans. I think we’re letting Iowans down.”
Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha has often said over the past two years that Iowans aren’t asking him to raise the gas tax. Last night Paulsen ruled the gas tax was not within the scope of the bill being debated. That meant the proposal from Byrnes was tabled and no vote was taken on his amendment.