Branstad: Gas tax hike is unlikely this year

HUMBOLDT – Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday that he does not expect any increase in the state’s gasoline tax to be approved this year.

”It’s probably not going to happen this session,” he said during a town hall meeting in Humboldt.

During that meeting, he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds also touted their plan to attract more military veterans to Iowa to beef up the number of available skilled workers.

The governor additionally pledged to speak to Chuck Gipp, the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, about fines that agency is threatening to impose on Humboldt and the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency.

Branstad and Reynolds spoke to about 10 people at Pasquale’s Pizza.

Humboldt County Engineer Paul Jacobson and Humboldt City Administrator Aaron Burnett said local governments need more money to pay for maintaining roads and bridges.

Money for that work comes from the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees. Iowa’s tax on a gallon of gasoline has remained 22 cents since 1989.

A bill to raise the tax by 10 cents per gallon to meet the rising cost of road and bridge work was approved by a subcommittee in the House of Representatives on Jan. 29, but has not advanced since then.

Branstad, noting that the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn next week if it sticks with its previously announced calendar, said he thinks it’s too late for any increase to be approved this year.

He said he believes Paul Trombino, the director of the state Department of Transportation, is doing a good job of managing the available funds.

”I know we’ve got budget needs in terms of bridges and roads and stuff like that, but there’s nobody that’s better managing the resources than Paul Trombino,” he said.

”I’ve asked him to put together a plan,” he added. ”Instead of just the traditional gas tax, he’s suggesting we look at a combination that might include the excise tax on gasoline.”

Such a plan, he said, would reduce the tax on a gallon of gasoline at the pump, but increase the wholesale tax on fuel.

He said the growing use of hybrid and highly fuel efficient vehicles will reduce gasoline tax revenue.

”We’re going to see a dminishing source of revenue even if you increase the gas tax,” he said.

Branstad said increased permit fees for oversized loads coming into the state on trucks should also be part of a package to generate money for road and bridge work.

”It’s something that hopefully we can get done,” he said.

Early in the meeting, Branstad and Reynolds outlined the Home Base Iowa initiative they created to bring veterans to the state.

”We’re trying to do everything we can to make Iowa as attractive as possible for military veterans and then to actually hook them up with job availability in Iowa,” the governor said.

Eliminating the state income tax on military pensions is a key element of that plan. A bill to do that was the first one passed by the state Senate this year. That bill was approved by the House of Representatives with some amendments and now awaits final action by the Senate.

Other elements of the plan include charging veterans, their spouses and dependents the in-state tuition rate at Regents universities; providing a $5,000 tax credit to veterans who buy homes and giving veterans credit for their military training when they apply for professional licenses from state regulatory agencies.

Reynolds said Greene County is the first place in the state to be named a Home Base Iowa Community. She said banks there are elminating the closing costs when veterans get mortgages from local financial insititutions.

The governor’s promise to speak to Gipp came after Humboldt Mayor Walter Jensen and Burnett talked about the fines that the solid waste agency and the city face from the Department of Natural Resources. Jensen said the solid waste agency faces fines for ”littering and safety things,” while Burnett said the city faces a $10,000 fine because of slow progress on water plant improvements.

”I believe in more trying to work with people to address these things rather than play gotcha,” Branstad said. ”But there’s too many people in government that love to play gotcha.”

Branstad and Reynolds spent much of Wednesday in north central Iowa. They started the day by speaking to a student assembly at Algona High School. The governor said that school won first place in a competition among anti-bullying programs which was sponsored by his office.

After leaving Humboldt, Branstad and Reynolds visited Hagie Manufacturing Co. in Clarion.