Fog

Panel OKs fuel tax increase but effort may stall

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 12:35 p.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — A proposal to raise Iowa’s fuel taxes won preliminary approval from lawmakers in the Iowa House Wednesday, but it is not clear if the measure can garner wider approval in the Legislature or from the governor.

A five-member House subcommittee unanimously backed the bill, which will now move to the full Transportation Committee. Under the proposal, fuel taxes would gradually rise by 10 cents a gallon, raising about $215 million annually for infrastructure expenses.

Rep. Joshua Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, said the state badly needs this funding to repair deteriorating bridges and roads. Similar proposals have failed to advance in past years, and gaining support for a tax hike may be a challenge this year as most lawmakers are seeking re-election.

“We’ve got to do something. Our infrastructure is aging. We have an issue of funding,” said Byrnes, who chairs the House Transportation Committee.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad declined to endorse or oppose the legislation. He said he wants to look at a variety of options to fund road repairs and suggested that a final solution might combine several approaches.

“I’m not ruling anything out, I’m not ruling anything in,” said Branstad.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said the tax hike is unlikely to advance without a clear signal from Branstad that he’ll support it.

“Leaders don’t want to bring it up unless they know what the governor’s intentions are,” said McCoy.

Iowa’s fuel tax — now 22 cents per gallon for gasoline, including fees — hasn’t been raised since 1989. A commission appointed by Branstad in 2011 recommended an increase of 8 to 10 cents a gallon to boost funding for the state’s network of bridges and roads, many of which are considered deteriorating or deficient.

When the federal fuel tax is included, Iowa drivers pay about 40 cents a gallon for regular gas, slightly more for diesel and slightly less for ethanol blends.

County officials testified Wednesday that they need additional resources.

“We have 25 to 30 bridges that are structurally deficient,” said Black Hawk County Supervisor John Miller, who said county has borrowed $35 million over the past five years for projects that include two bridge repairs.

Iowans for Tax Relief Policy Director Lindsay McQuarry said residents are already overtaxed and any new tax should be considered only after other options are exhausted.

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