Whether or not Iowa’s gas tax should be increased, and if so, how much, is going to be a big topic of conversation in the legislature this session. Iowa’s gas tax is currently .21 cents a gallon (.19 cents for ethanol fuel), plus we pay an additional .1 cent “UST” (underground storage fee). The last time Iowa raised the gas tax was in 1989. Our total gas tax is lower than about two-thirds of the states — link on the map below to see the range across the country (note that the 18.4 cent federal gas tax is included in the total tax quoted for each state):
This summer, the Governor put together a DOT commission tasked with researching this issue and determining if an increase was necessary/appropriate in order to allow Iowa to maintain its current highways and possibly build/expand new ones (e.g., expand Highway 30 from a two lane to a four lane — read more here: http://www.fourlane30.com/) and if so, how such an increase should be structured. The commission recommended an increase of between eight and ten cents a gallon (a ten cent increase would generate approximately $230 million a year in revenue that would go to repair and build Iowa highways).
It is likely that both the Senate and House standing transportation committees (I’m on the House committee) will take up the issue of a gas tax increase — the current bill proposes five cents in 2013 and five cents in 2014, although some groups are urging a greater increase (on the grounds that if we only raise it every twenty years or so, we might want to bite the bullet). Despite having requested the report from the DOT commission in the first place, Governor Branstad at first rejected the recommendation outright; his current position seems to be a definite maybe.
Here’s the thing — despite the fact that it’s pretty clear to everyone who spends any time at all looking at the situation that (1) it’s in Iowa’s best short and long term interests to pass a reasonable gas tax increase, and (2) a reasonable increase is in fact necessary just to maintain our current highway infrastructure–despite this, there seems to be a great desire to avoid a vote on any gas tax bill, unless and until everyone knows that everyone else is on board.
Apparently the concern is that unless it’s a truly bi-partisan vote, with lots of legislators from both parties voting in favor of a gas tax increase in both the House and the Senate, then those of us that do vote yes are going to end up having it used against us, big time, in the upcoming November 2012 elections. And understandably, I doubt that the leaders of either the House or the Senate want to go out on a limb and rally their respective caucuses around a gas tax increase unless and until Governor Branstad is willing to commit to it as well, definitely and unreservedly. Although personally, I think that Iowa voters (particularly Iowa voters in my district, of course) are pretty smart, and that they send us to the Capitol to take care of business, and that they’re not going to punish us for doing our job. So I’m not too worried.
And please, since I do work for you, let me know what you think — hopefully there’s a poll somehow attached to this blog entry (still new at this fancy wordpress stuff) and I’d appreciate it if you could VOTE on your position re. a gas tax increase. Maybe you’ll surprise me, or maybe you’ll surprise party leadership. We’ll see.