During the 2013 Iowa Legislative session, The Chronicle and News-Herald will submit questions to the Tama County delegation:
State Senator Steve Sodders (D-State Center) and State representative Dean Fisher (R-Garwin.)
If you have a question you would like considered for submission, send it to the newspapers.
State Representative Dean Fisher (R-Garwin)
State Senator Steve Sodders (D-State Center)
WEEK?FOUR: "What is your view on an increase in motor vehicle fuel tax?"
Iowa families deserve a well-maintained, high-quality transportation system that is safe and affordable. Iowa employers and companies looking to locate in Iowa tell me that the condition of our roads and bridges is vital to support existing jobs and continued job creation.
Recognizing this, Iowa has for years tried to come up with funding to meet our most critical road needs.
Iowa's fuel tax was last increased in 1989. While Iowa ranks low nationally for our fuel tax rate, our state also ranks toward the bottom when it comes to the condition of our roads. A 2011 Transportation for America report ranked Iowa the third-worst state for deficient bridges.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Iowa Senate in 2012 would have increased the fuel tax by 10 cents over two years. The legislation took a "user fee" approach, where those who use the roads pay for them, including nonresidents. Out-of-state drivers generate 20 percent of total travel on Iowa's roadways but currently provide only 13 percent of state road revenue.
I hope that we can find consensus with the Governor and Republican and Democratic legislators to take the steps necessary to find the funding necessary to ensure that Iowa's roads and bridges are safe for all travelers.
State Rep. Dean Fisher
One of the primary responsibilities of our government is the construction and maintenance of our roads and bridges. Good roads and bridges are fundamental to our economy, if we don't keep them in good repair our economy will suffer.
The fuel tax was last raised in 1989, it was set at 21 cents per gallon for regular fuel, 19 cents for 10% ethanol, and 22.5 cents for diesel fuel. This tax goes directly to the Road Use Tax Fund (RUTF) per the Iowa Constitution. The Constitutional protection makes sure that these funds are used only for roads and bridges, the legislature cannot use these funds for any other purpose.
Since the fuel tax is based per gallon and not a percentage of the sale, the amount of money the state receives depends on the number of gallons sold. Since 1989 Iowa's population hasn't increased much, and the fuel efficiency of our vehicles has improved. Therefore, Iowans are not buying many more gallons in 2013 than we did in 1989. Which means the amount of money the state collects is nearly the same today as it was in 1989. Over the same 24 year period the cost of constructing and maintaining our roads and bridges has gone up dramatically. Meanwhile, the demands on our roads and bridges increases every year as farm machinery gets bigger and as truck traffic increases. The result is that Iowa does not have enough money to keep up with the degradation from wear and weather and the need for upgrades for heavier vehicles and higher traffic rates.
Estimates are that a 10 cent per gallon increase in the fuel tax is necessary. This would generate approximately $215 million additional per year for the RUTF. An advantage of raising the fuel tax is that out of state vehicles, especially trucks, would also be paying this additional tax. By some estimates nearly 30% of the $215 million would come from out of state persons, not Iowans. By law, out of state trucks crossing Iowa must pay the Iowa fuel tax commensurate with the miles they drive in Iowa regardless of whether or not they actually buy fuel in Iowa.
That's why truck stops on I-80 always seem to be full; it pays for the truckers to buy enough fuel in Iowa to cover their requirement so they don't pay the tax twice.
On the other hand, I know that a great many of the people in the district commute quite a distance to school and work, and that raising the gas tax would increase the burden on the family budget. Polls show a majority of our citizens oppose a gas tax increase, but many of our business and civic leaders are worried that our failure to keep our roads and bridges up to date will hurt our economy and thus impact job growth and retention.
I have been wrestling with the answer to this dilemma for some time. I have advocated that the legislature reprioritize its spending and transfer money from the general fund to the RUTF. This idea doesn't gain much traction because many are worried that it won't be maintained consistently by future legislatures. An alternative that I have considered would be to lower some other tax by perhaps $300 million in order to offset the $215 million fuel tax at the same time, giving Iowans a net tax reduction.
It remains to be seen what action, if any, this General Assembly will take. At this time, no bill has even been introduced. Rest assured that if it is addressed, I will work to make the best decision for Iowa that I can, taking into account the needs of the family budget as well as the needs of the job creators in Iowa.