The president of the Iowa Farm Bureau says the momentum is heading in the right direction for state leaders to increase the gas tax to help fund improvements to the state’s road system. Craig Hill spoke with reporters today following his speech to members at the Farm Bureau’s annual meeting.
“I think it’s the year, I am very, very positive about this. We have moved the needle, over the years we have talked about his, and we’ve persuaded a lot of the citizens of Iowa,” Hill says. “You look at the polling, citizens are starting to become informed, they are aware of the issue, increasingly they are becoming supportive.”
Hill says it was a good sign that Governor Terry Branstad said after winning another term that he would look at the options for increasing the funds to fix roads — including an increase in the gas tax.
“The governor has not promised to not veto, but he has promised to take an open look at this and look at all the possibilities. And he recognizes that we are going into debt as a state, county by county, we’re bonding for road improvements,” according to Hill. “And his home county — Winnebago County — is one of the biggest offenders of this.”
Hill says the bonds end up using property taxes to fund the improvements instead of the gas tax which charges the user of the roads. “Is that path that we want to take? Do we want a good quality road system that builds our economy, our rural infrastructure depends on that, farmers depend on that,” Hill says. He says farmers pay the bill when they take semis down the road with grain or livestock. “So, farmers are actually imposing a tax on themselves for something they think the government should be doing, and that’s good roads and bridges.”
He says the years of not fixing bridges in rural areas has taken a toll. “Well, there’s some very significant impacts, when you have to traverse 5 miles to get to that field that is a quarter mile or three-quarters of a mile down the road, but you can’t go through the bridge — that’s pretty serious,” Hill says. Hill says it also impacts people living in rural areas when they have to travel extra miles to get where they are going because bridges are limited.
Hill says a 10-cent increase in the gas tax would bring in enough money to fix roads. He says the governor has talked about using a mix of ideas to fund the road improvements and the Iowa Farm Bureau will not take a stand on how to do that, but will leave it up to the governor and legislators to decide.