The idea of raising more money to pay for roads has won support from a broad cross-section of groups representing Iowa city and county governments, businesses and agriculture. One group that has not been won over are members of the general public who are opposed to a tax increase.
That opposition has made it next to impossible to get a gas tax increase through the Legislature, despite valiant efforts in recent legislative sessions. In fact, a deal was cobbled together last spring that had support in both parties, in both chambers and in the governor’s office. But it fell apart at the last minute.
Advocates of raising the gas tax will be back again in 2014 when the Legislature convenes in January. The only thing that has changed is the election calendar: If it is hard to get legislators on board for a tax increase in an ordinary year, it is doubly hard in a year when they will face the voters.
That does not mean they should not try, or that it cannot be done.
The job would be much easier if Gov. Terry Branstad would take the lead. With the governor in the driver’s seat, he could bring along lawmakers who need cover.
Instead, despite dropping all sorts of hints that he would go along with an increase in revenue for roads if the Legislature approves it, the governor has not gotten out front of the issue, no doubt with an eye on 2014. Branstad has not officially announced he is running for re-election, but he has done everything but make the official announcement, and his patented campaign machine is warming up in the garage.
Still, Branstad is just the guy to make the case for raising new revenue for Iowa roads. Nearly six out of 10 Iowans approve of the job he is doing as governor, according to The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll. Branstad has a huge storehouse of political capital, and he should spend some of it on this vitally important issue.