Webster Co. sups call for gas tax hike

A resolution calling for a 10 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax was approved by the Webster County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Similar resolutions are being considered throughout the state, supported by the Iowa State Association of Counties, said Supervisor Bob Singer.

“The bottom line is we have insufficient funds for roads and bridges,” Singer said.

Singer attended Transportation Day on Jan. 29 in Des Moines, along with Kim Alstott, Steve Hoesel, Daryl Watts and Webster County Engineer Randy Will.

According to the resolution, counties have had to downgrade or close roads or bridges, and delay needed reconstruction, due to a shortfall in Iowa’s Road Use Tax fund.

Singer said the Association of Counties hopes if enough counties sign the resolution the legislature will take action.

State and federal gas tax put together adds up to about 40 cents per gallon, Singer said. Iowa’s rate has not gone up since 1988.

“In 1988 the price of one gallon was $1.08,” he said. “If it’s roughly 40 cents a gallon, and it’s $1.08 per gallon cost, you can recognize about 40 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas went for taxes.”

With gas now at $3 a gallon, and taxes remaining at 40 cents, the amount of the cost going to taxes is only 13.3 percent, he said. The cost of building roads is six to ten times greater today than in 1988, Singer added.

He said raising the tax on gas is the most fair way to come up with needed funds for our roads.

“There have been a variety of suggestions over the years, everything from licensing farm implements, to increasing licensing fees, drivers license fees, increasing the amount the DOT charges truckers for special loads,” he said.

“Everyone at the pump says I don’t want an increase in taxes. No one argues that, as you would not want any increase in taxes for other things. But in the same breath you want good roads. Mr. Will is not a magician.”

Will and the engineering department have done a good job of working with the money available, Singer said.

In Webster County, “the effects of the deteriorating road situation currently are that we’ve had to look at no snow removal. All that does is save us some money we are able to put elsewhere,” he said.

“That being said, our bridges are as old as anybody’s bridges. It’s only a question of time before we have to put more embargoes on bridges, and only a question of time before we have to do minimum maintenance on certain roads.”

Supervisor Keith Dencklau said the county is levying the maximum amount possible for roads, and putting 50 percent the county portion of Local Option Sales Tax toward roads.

An increased gas tax is only a short-term solution, Singer said. Electric cars, alternative fuels like natural gas, and cars with higher and higher gas mileage will all pose additional challenges in the future.

A house study bill calling for the 10 cent tax increase has passed out of subcommittee. It will need bipartisan support to move forward, Singer said.

“The subcommittee chair happened to be of the Republican persuasion,” he added.

Funds are vital not only for maintenance, but also for completing work on four-lane U.S. Highway 20, said Singer, who is on the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Association.

Dennis Plautz, chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, said Census numbers from 2010 show counties shrinking in places that are more than 20 miles away from a four-lane road.

“It is critical to economic development, so Highway 20 is something we need to keep working for,” Plautz said.

The supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Supervisor Mark Campbell was absent.