Raising fuel taxes in Iowa needs to be high on the agenda for the Legislature in January, and the governor says that’s a possibility.
We’ve supported such an increase in recent months to improve roads and bridges — some of them dangerous — and improve our transportation system overall, a key economic development tool. As another benefit, such projects would also increase jobs.
But whether it was because it’s an election year or legislators had too many other things on their agenda, the gas tax fell by the roadside.
However, the issue still has some wheels. Gov. Terry Branstad, visiting western Iowa last week, said he sees support by legislators for raising the tax between 8 and 10 cents over the next three years.
It’s about time. The tax hasn’t changed since 1989, and although there’s considerable road work done each year, some things are falling behind — luckily, not apart.
Problems with bridges in the Quad Cities have been well-documented. In Monona County, where Branstad was speaking last week, County Engineer David Carney said they’ve had difficulty repairing 120 bridges because of lack of funding. Some road projects were shelved altogether.
We’re certain those kinds of stories could be repeated across the state.
We’re also certain an increase in fuel taxes would help ease those concerns. In fact, a citizen’s panel had recommended an increase to legislators in the last session but that proposal failed.
It’s not that we’re anxious to increase taxes. But fuel taxes are a type of user fee and those who use our roads and cause the wear and tear should help pay to maintain them.
Plus, there’s another part of Branstad’s equation that would indirectly help ease the pain at the pumps for Iowans. The governor said he believes legislators would support fuel tax hikes if they were linked to decreases in property and income taxes.
We’re not sure how the Legislature will cut those taxes. Time and again they’ve stalled on doing so.
But regardless, come January, lawmakers — with the elections well in the rear-view mirror — should get with the governor to craft a plan to pump more money into the highway fund.
Better, newer roads and bridges are essential to the state’s well-being — both fiscally and for the safety of those using them.