Key legislators involved in crafting a bill to raise the state tax on motor fuel by a dime a gallon say the legislation will include an attempt to rein in county borrowing for road and bridge projects.
Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, says Black Hawk County, for example, has borrowed over $35 million for transportation-related projects in the past seven years.
“That’s $46,000 of debt per mile of secondary road and it’s $269 per person that they’ve got on their backs,” Byrnes says.
Byrnes, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says the problem is many roads will have to be repaired or even replaced long before residents have paid back the 30-year bond for the original project. Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Bowman says the bill to raise the gas tax likely will include a call for counties to match the length of their loans to the “life-expectancy” of the road or bridge.
“We’re not finalized,” Bowman says. “It could change yet before we publish the draft, but there are under consideration some other ideas to be in the bill.”
Bowman and Byrnes discussed the issue today during taping of Iowa Public Television’s weekly “Iowa Press” program. Iowans for Tax Relief founder David Stanley, a critic of the fuel tax hike, was also a guest.
“As I hear these people talk…about the bill, they’re still having trouble putting it together,” Stanley said. “I don’t think they have a done deal yet.”
Stanley say the gas tax is the most regressive tax the state levies.
“After several years of recession, we’ve got thousands of Iowans out there who’ve lost their jobs. They’re working for half the money they used to get. Many now have to drive 30, 40, 50 miles to work,” Stanley says. “We’ve got people hurting. This is the wrong time.”
Other groups, like Americans For Prosperity, argue state policymakers should prioritize state spending and divert 3.5 percent of all the other taxes the state collects into the gas tax fund which is used exclusively for road projects. Supporters of the gas tax increase say that will pit roads against other priorities, like spending on schools and the mentally ill, and the gas tax is a user fee that is also paid by out-of-state motorists and truckers who drive on Iowa roads.