Supporters of fuel tax increase lobby lawmakers as new report shows Iowa roads need repairs

IndustrialsAssociated Press

Members of an influential farming group lobbied Iowa lawmakers on Wednesday to approve a fuel tax increase to pay for road improvements.

Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill said 200 members of his organization were in the state Capitol talking to legislators. Hill appeared at a news conference where a national transportation research group released a report detailing weaknesses with Iowa's bridges and roads.

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"We're waiting for their decision," Hill said. "We're working hard to get there. But I don't have a level of confidence that I'm ready to celebrate yet."

Lawmakers in the state House and Senate are reviewing bills that would hike the state fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon to pay for roads, which would provide about $215 million annually for the state's network of bridges and roads. A Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday and a House committee endorsed it Wednesday. The legislation will get another committee-level review in each chamber before a full vote.

Similar proposals have failed to advance in past years, but Gov. Terry Branstad and legislative leaders have been vocal this year about raising money for infrastructure. Still, some lawmakers from both parties have reservations about a tax increase.

"I certainly understand the need and the critical shortfall we have. But I think this bill doesn't address the long-term issue," Sen. Chris Brase, a Democrat from Muscatine, said Tuesday.

Organizations advocating for construction companies and truck drivers are backing the legislation. But anti-tax groups and an organization speaking on behalf of truck stops have questioned the plan.

Iowa's fuel tax is now 22 cents per gallon for gasoline, including fees. Diesel fuel has a slightly higher tax and ethanol blends are a bit lower. The tax hasn't been raised since 1989.

The new report from TRIP — a research group funded largely by businesses with interest in transportation — says 27 percent of Iowa's urban roads and highways are in poor condition and that 21 percent of Iowa's bridges are structurally deficient. The report, which uses federal data, does not propose a solution, but says more funding is needed to preserve the state transportation system.

"Without additional funding at the local, state and federal level, Iowa's system will continue to deteriorate," said Carolyn Kelly, the group's associate director of research and communication.