Branstad Holds Out Possibility of Gas Tax Increase

By James Q. Lynch, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa - It ain't over until it's over, Gov. Terry Branstad said about the possibility lawmakers will take up a gas tax increase before adjourning.

"First of all, nothing is for sure until the Legislature goes home, so I don't think you should assume anything," the governor said Monday when asked how he would address transportation needs without additional revenue.

The fifth term Republican again indicated he's open to a gas tax hike if the Legislature approves significant property tax relief.

"As I've said before, once we get property tax relief concluded, that is something that could be considered," he said at his weekly news conference April 22.

That's good news for lawmakers who have been talking up a 10-cent increase in the 22-cent tax phased in over three years. A dime increase would provide an estimated $215 million for the Department of Transportation.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, would prefer a dime increase, but would gladly accept consecutive annual increases of three cents, three cents and four cents.

That's because while the DOT's road program appears to be focused on interstates and urban areas, Johnson sees a growing need for improvements in rural Iowa.

"We are going to grow more corn, more soybeans and move more livestock to feed an increasingly hungry world," he said. Plus, manufacturers need to be able to move products whether they are ice cream or ethanol.

Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, said too many roads and bridges in rural Iowa have weight restrictions – not just because of annual spring embargoes, but because they are deteriorating. The roads make the case for a gas tax increase, Kapucian said.

"The average person can see the roads are getting really bad," he said. Interstates and major state highways are in pretty good shape, but he said a recent cross-country trip on county roads was a "teeth-chattering experience."

Branstad seems to agree. He noted that the DOT has had the largest road construction programs in the state's history the past two years.

"But as you look to the future, we know there is a need there and it seems to make sense to do it on a pay-as-you-go basis and do it by user fees," he said, referring to the motor fuel tax.

Branstad and lawmakers agree that it helps that gasoline prices have dropped.

"We also need to be cognizant of the high cost of commuting to work and the economic problems many Iowans are facing," Branstad said.

No gas tax legislation has been introduced, but lawmakers say it could come together quickly if there is a deal on property tax relief.

"It could come together on the last day of session," Kapucian said.
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