U.S. 20 group hears forecast for gas tax



ROCKWELL CITY – The prospects for raising the state’s gasoline tax during this year’s legislative session appear to be slim, a lawmaker said Friday.

State Sen. Bill Anderson, R-Pierson, said the increase faces opposition from a key Democratic senator. He added that Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is reluctant to support raising the levy until some of his priorities are approved by the Legislature.

Anderson, who acknowledges there is a need for more road and bridge money, has introduced a bill that would take $100 million from the state’s general fund surplus and use it to create a critical needs fund to finance infrastructure work.

The senator spoke to the U.S. 20 Corridor Association at the Rockwell City Community Center. That association is in favor of raising the 21 cents per gallon tax by a dime. Members of the group see getting more road money as key to completing U.S. Highway 20 as a four-lane route across northern Iowa. After decades of work, about 40 miles between Early in Sac County and Moville in Woodbury County are all that remain to be widened.

Anderson said the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, has declared a gasoline tax increase dead. He added that Bolkcom appears unlikely to change his mind.

”You’re not going to tell Joe Bolkcom what to do, even if you’re Gronstal,” he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

Anderson said prospects for a gasoline tax hike are further hurt by the fact that the commercial property tax reform sought by Branstad hasn’t passed.

”Gov. Branstad didn’t run on raising the gasoline tax,” he said. ”He ran on creating jobs and increasing family incomes. He sees commercial property tax reform as an avenue to do that.”

”I think the environment is defined by the fact that we haven’t seen any of the governor’s agenda passed,” he added.

Branstad has said he would consider a gasoline tax hike if it was part of a broader package that reduced overall taxation on Iowans.

He said he believes his fellow Republicans would be more likely to approve the use of surplus general fund money to pay for road work.

”I know that’s not the solution, but it would put money into the system,” he said.

Early Mayor Sharon Irwin, who is the association’s treasurer, said raising the gas tax would create jobs because it would lead to more road construction. Eventually, she said, that increased work would create jobs at plants that make construction equipment.

During the meeting, Pocahontas County Supervisor Vince Triggs said his county has closed bridges and placed weight limits on others because it doesn’t have the money to fix them.

Webster County Supervisor Bob Singer said his county has not closed roads or bridges. However, to save money the county has eliminated snow removal on some roads, imposed weight limits on bridges and delayed some projects, he said.

Shirley Phillips, the president of the association, said the group will try to get a list of pending projects from county engineers to help make the case that a gasoline tax increase is needed.