Optimism ran high for local officials wanting an increase to Iowa’s gas tax before the Iowa legislature convened in January.
But almost three months later with legislators nearing the session’s end, hope for a gas tax hike is gone, with the issue likely to garner more discussion in 2013.
“The issue is dead,” Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, said during Saturday’s legislative forum in Clinton. “We wanted the House to take action, but the leader never brought it up.”
Any chance for an increase to the gas tax likely vanished when the Des Moines Register ran a poll showing citizens’ disproval with the measure and gas prices escalated, Rep. Steve Olson, R-DeWitt, said.
The poll, conducted by the Register in February, showed 68 percent of Iowa residents opposed a hike. During February, gas prices had escalated by more than 30 cents in many communities across Iowa.
“We had a whole lot of people who wanted to vote ‘yes’” Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said. “It just depends on where you live and if you were in a contested race. It doesn’t necessarily break down on party lines.”
Officials from the U.S. Highway 30 coalition, which includes representatives from the Clinton area, lobbied in Des Moines in January for an increase to the gas tax. The group is dedicated to the expansion of U.S. 30 for safety and economic reasons.
The group would like to get U.S. 30 as a four-lane highway. An increase in the gas tax would generate more money for improvements to Iowa’s bridges, highways and county and city roads.
Iowa hasn’t raised its gas tax, which is 21 cents per gallon, since 1989. Legislators were looking to raise the tax by about 8 to 10 cents.
Property tax reform
Another hot topic for the legislature going into the session was commercial property tax reform, and with legislators set to finish this week, time is running out.
House Republicans are proposing reducing commercial property taxes 40 percent, and limit growth in local government budgets and tax rates.
The state would then fill local government budgets by $800 million.
However, Senate Democrats want to create a $250 million business tax credit, and then provide a 40 percent tax cut for 80 percent of Iowa businesses.
“I’m a firm believer in the Senate’s bill,” Bowman said. “I have hope to work something out. We’ll get work done on it as soon as possible.”
Olson said Gov. Terry Branstad is willing to listen to both sides and Olson would be surprised if the issue doesn’t reach a resolution.