DES MOINES — Finding money to repair the state’s aging infrastructure will be one of the top issues of the 2014 legislative session, Gov. Terry Branstad said Thursday.
The five-term governor, who returned this week from a trade mission to Japan and India, said he was open to ideas, but he also was quick to dismiss the idea of an increase in the state’s fuel tax.
“Many of our citizens are really hurting financially, and raising the gas tax is really unpopular,” Branstad said following his remarks at a meeting of the Institute of Transportation Engineers Midwest District at the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines.
“The highway transportation and infrastructure is going to be one of the important issues, and it needs to be addressed,” the governor said, adding that Iowa Department of Transportation Director Paul Trombino has compiled a report on ways the state can raise money to pay for a backlog of infrastructure road repairs.
“I haven’t had a chance to sit down with him, but I understand he’s got a series of different options and ideas,” Branstad said. “I want to review that, share that with legislative leaders and see if there’s a way we can build a consensus.”
He said he would like to have the consensus worked out before the legislative session begins on Jan. 13.
“We need to have some broad-based discussions with legislative leaders and, I think, with the citizens of Iowa on these issues before we decide what is the art of the possible,” he said.
The state Department of Transportation estimates there is a $250 million annual backlog in critical infrastructure projects. Nationally, states have shortchanged road construction and maintenance by up to $185 billion a year, according to a National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission report from 2012.
A potential deal on a 10-cents-per-gallon tax increase spread out over several years fell apart late last session after supporters couldn’t get enough lawmakers to commit to it, despite support from such powerful lobbying groups as the Iowa Farm Bureau and construction groups.
Organized taxpayer groups, such as Iowans for Tax Relief and the Iowa chapter of Americans for Prosperity lobbied against it. The Republican Party of Iowa also sent letters to its members opposing the tax even though some members of its party — particularly rural Republicans such as state Rep. Josh Byrnes of Osage and Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan — had come out strongly in favor of it.