By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
Area infrastructure advocates joined more than a hundred gas tax increase proponents in campaigning “it’s time for a dime” during their trip last Wednesday to Transportation Day in Des Moines.
Clinton County was represented by members of the U.S. 30 Coalition, County Supervisor Brian Schmidt and Clinton County Engineer Todd Kinney during the annual gathering that brings infrastructure supporters together for change.
This trip the focus was securing a 10 cent gas tax increase to pay for Iowa’s roads.
Edith Pfeffer, president of the U.S. 30 Coalition, was among those who traveled to Des Moines to discuss transportation needs with state legislators.
Pfeffer and advocates like her say because the gas tax has not been increased since 1989, Iowa cannot keep up with the $215 million in critical infrastructure needs identified by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
Iowa’s current gas tax is 21 cents per gallon on gas. Pfeffer said if the gas tax had been increased at the same pace as the cost of construction, it would be at 56 cents.
“Infrastructure is the basis of government,” Pfeffer said. “Why can’t our government be proactive? Our infrastructure needs attention now.”
Supporters of a 10 cent gas tax increase also include some of the more influential lobbying groups in the state such as the Farm Bureau, the General Contractors Association and the Association of County Supervisors.
Part of the problem contributing to the state’s inability to maintain roads at the same pace they deteriorate, Pfeffer said, is that while out-of-state drivers account for 20 percent of the usage on Iowa roads, they only fund 13 percent of the cost to maintain them. Increasing the gas tax would create more balance and make out-of-state users pay “their fair share” for using Iowa’s roads, she said.
The Clinton County group also called for the increase in order to keep counties from having to bond for infrastructure improvements. Kinney spoke about Clinton County’s infrastructure to the Senate Transportation Committee, which is headed by Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa.
Area advocates lobbied for a 10 cent increase to be phased in over a number of years in order to bring the gas tax up to a level where Iowa’s roads can be maintained. The current proposal being floated entails two years of three cent increases followed by a four cent increase.
During the day area advocates met with Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines. They also met with Rep. Steve Olson, R-DeWitt. Later in the day, the group was addressed by Gov. Terry Branstad, who has said that the gas tax increase is contingent on the passage of property tax reform.
Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino has already cut the department’s budget in order to work with the funds available. Now, Pfeffer said, it’s time for the state to increase the gas tax in order to pay for infrastructure through a user fee concept that is constitutionally protected to go for the purpose the fees are collected — construction, maintenance and supervision of Iowa’s roads.
“We feel our DOT director has cut as much as he can cut and it’s time to put money into Iowa’s roads,” Pfeffer said. “We are at a critical point for infrastructure in Iowa.”