‘Hybrid’ may get road repair on track

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 28 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:15 am in

By The Gazette Editorial Board


Pavement has been no match for politics at the Statehouse this year. Prospects for a fuel tax increase to help pay for a mounting list of needed road and bridge repairs are fading to a flicker.

It’s not all that surprising, with an election looming and polls showing most Iowans oppose a proposed 10-cent fuel tax increase. The appetite for doing what’s clearly necessary but not popular is sorely lacking. And the 2014 session appears to be entering its final weeks.

Still, we’re intrigued by a last-ditch “hybrid” effort to gain support for road funding. Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, has floated the idea of, instead, cutting the per-gallon gasoline tax while raising the sales tax paid by fuel wholesalers. Under his plan, the per-gallon tax would be sliced to 16 cents while the wholesale tax would jump by 5 percent. Iowa’s current per-gallon tax is 21 cents for regular gasoline and 19 cents for ethanol blends.

Although every penny of the per-gallon tax raises

$22 million in revenue annually, each percentage of the wholesale tax collects

$47 million. So the hybrid

wholesale tax plan would raise roughly the same

$230 million annually for road repairs as the 10-cent proposal.

In both cases, consumers would end up paying for the tax bump at the pump. So, at first glance, the hybrid plan looks like a political maneuver to raise revenue without, technically, raising the gas tax. Raising the tax paid by wholesalers might make for a less potent issue on the campaign trail.

But it’s been 25 years since lawmakers raised the gas tax. If a political maneuver is what it takes to finally address the state’s growing infrastructure needs, so be it. Making tough decisions more palatable is an important legislative skill. Maybe Byrnes finally has found a road forward, and just about anything can happen in the waning days of a legislative session.

Odds are, however, that the can will be kicked down the potholed road, again. But it’s also possible that his plan will form the basis of a renewed effort in 2015.

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