A coalition of farm and business groups is forming to push Iowa legislators for a 10-cent increase in state taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
Scott Newhard, of the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, told The Des Moines Register that he’s expecting support for the idea from the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Iowa Bankers Association and several other agriculture and business groups.
Newhard says the fuel tax increase is needed to address a $215 million annual funding shortfall for critical maintenance and improvements needed by Iowa’s road system.
But fragile efforts to ignite a gas tax debate in the 2013 Legislature will flame out if urban lawmakers try to inject a rewrite of the formula for distributing road-use tax fund revenues into the mix, backers and skeptics agree.
With the next election nearly two years away, supporters of increasing the state’s motor fuel user fee – as Gov. Terry Branstad prefers to call it – see the 2013 legislative session as offering a 50-50 shot, at best, to bump up rates for the first time since 1989.
Here’s columnist Todd Dorman’s take: “Sure, I understand how the Legislature works. Branstad and everyone else in the article who says re-writing the formula would blow up the issue are 100 percent right. You can never go wrong assuming that self-interested politicos will duck tough but necessary calls (see no gas tax increase since 1989), or defend their parochial political interests even if they run counter to the best interests of the state as a whole. So as punditry goes, this is rock solid stuff.
“As policy, it’s lousy,” he continues. “It’s true, there is a rural-urban split in Iowa. Iowa’s fastest growing places are urban/suburban and its fastest shrinking are rural. One third of Iowa’s population lives in just eight urban areas. Suburban communities, such as Waukee, North Liberty, Fairfax, Marion, etc. are growing at a remarkable clip.
“The state’s most pressing transportation needs have, over time, shifted to those urban/suburban municipalities and the highways that carry people between them. The Road Use Tax Formula should be changed to better reflect those realities.”
What do you think? Is this the year that Iowa should raise the gas tax to catch up on road maintenance? And should the Road Use Tax Formula be revamped as part of that gas tax increase?