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Iowa House may take up gas tax increase

DES MOINES — A fuel tax increase that failed in the Iowa Senate has surfaced as an amendment in the House, which may be the last, best chance for a gas tax bump this year.

State Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, filed the amendment to House File 2444, which deals with motor fuel, ethanol and special fuel taxes.

The amendment calls for cutting the state’s per-gallon fuel tax but adding a 5 percent excise tax on the wholesale of gasoline. Assuming the excise tax is passed on to the consumer, the end result would be a per-gallon increase of “around 10 cents a gallon, or $40 to $60 a year” over current prices, Byrnes said.

Iowans pay 21 cents in state tax on a gallon of regular gasoline and 19 cents for ethanol-blended fuel. At issue is an annual $215 million backlog in repairs deemed “critical” by the Iowa Department of Transportation and the funding to pay for it.

On Monday, state Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, tried to attach a similar amendment to the same bill, but it was ruled “not germane” in the Senate. That means the amendment is too far off-topic to be considered with the bill being discussed.

Germaneness rulings are made by the Senate president or House speaker, or their designee, in each chamber. Byrnes said the amendment might have an easier path in the House, where Republicans hold the majority.

Rep. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, ranking member of the House Transportation committee, said caucus leadership told lawmakers early on they needed as close to an even number of Democrats and Republicans in each chamber to vote for a tax increase for it to get brought up this session. The goal for the 50-member Senate is 14 Democrats and 12 Republicans. For the 100-member House, it is 27 Republicans and 24 Democrats.

“Are you going to have the House pass an amendment on a gas tax, without the votes from the Senate?” Lykam asked. “You need all four chambers putting up their fair share of the vote … Why are you going to hang one (chamber) out there on a dead bill?”

Byrnes said he thinks there are the votes needed in the House where he hopes he can get an up-or-down vote.

“You’re going to travel on better roads, you’re making an investment in our economy,” Byrnes said. “We’re an export state. We’re able to continue being an export state because we have good infrastructure.”

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