Transportation interests call for higher Iowa gas tax

Lawmakers' focus on property tax relief

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Rarely does anyone lobby for higher taxes on themselves, but a coalition of transportation interests rallied at the Capitol Wednesday to tell lawmakers it’s time to raise the Iowa gas tax.

“No one wants to pay higher taxes, but we must invest in infrastructure,” Iowa Corn Growers President Bruce Rohwer of Paullina said.

“Truckers are willing to pay their fair share,” added Bob Kohlwes of BTI Special Commodities, a Des Moines-based coast-to-coast trucking company. “We’ve put off investment in (this) asset long enough.”

It’s not as if Iowans aren’t paying for the condition of Iowa roads now, according to TRIP, a Washington-based national non-profit transportation research group. Its research showed vehicle operating costs, traffic congestion and safety issues are costing Iowa $1.9 billion annually or $1,400 a year for a typical Des Moines driver.

In addition to deteriorated roads and bridges, Iowa’s rural roads have a significantly higher traffic fatality rate than all other roads in the state.

In addition to better roads, raising the gas tax to invest in infrastructure would be good for the economy, according to TRIP, which has released “Iowa Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility,” which provides data on key transportation facts and figures in the state.

The figure transportation interest groups have in mind is 10 – a 10-cent hike in the Iowa motor fuel tax that hasn’t been increased since 1989. The A bill has been drafted, but not introduced, calling for a 3-cent, 3-cent, 4-cent phase-in of the tax increase to raise about $215 million a year more for the Road Use Tax Fund.

The increase has the support of chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation committees, but its introduction is a mater of timing, according to Dave Newhard of the Associated General Contractors.

“The window hasn’t opened,” Newhard said, explaining that the gas tax increase won’t be taken up until after lawmakers deal with property tax reform.

“And it hasn’t closed,” said House Transportation Chairman Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, one of two legislators at the meeting.

He believes the numbers work in favor of a gas tax hike and agrees that the issues won’t be taken up until lawmakers approve property tax relief.

That’s encouraging to Iowa Motor Truck Association President Brenda Neville.

“They’re still asking us about it,” she said, referring to legislators. “So we’re still hopeful.”

According to TRIP, each year $157 billion in goods are shipped from Iowa and another $142 billion are shipped to sites in Iowa. Eighty-one percent of the goods are carried by trucks.

More than two-fifths of Iowa’s major locally and state-maintained roads are in either poor or mediocre condition and the state has the third highest percentage of deficient bridges, according to a report from a national transportation organization.

A 2007 analysis by the Federal Highway Administration

found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction would support approximately 27,800 jobs, including approximately 9,500 in the construction sector, approximately 4,300 jobs in industries supporting the construction sector, and approximately 14,000 other jobs induced in non-construction related sectors of the economy.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.

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