Increase the gas tax: Pay now or pay later
State officials are kicking the can down the road — but it’s liable to disappear into a pothole.
Iowa needs $210 million to fix the most urgent needs of the state’s road and bridge system. More than 40 percent of Iowa’s roads need some type of repair, and 20 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient.
A task force appointed by Gov. Branstad a couple of years ago strongly endorsed an increase in the state’s fuel tax, and a number of statewide organizations, including the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, agree.
But neither political party in the Legislature wants to endorse a gas tax increase unilaterally, and the governor is at best lukewarm about taking the lead, despite his own task force’s recommendation.
A House subcommittee last week voted 5-0 to advance a bill calling for a 10-cent increase to the fuel tax over a three-year period; we’ll see what happens to it when and if it’s brought up on the House floor.
A 10-cent increase, phased in over three years, would raise the tax by three or four cents a year during that period. A car that gets 25 miles to the gallon, and is driven 25,000 miles a year, would use 1,000 gallons of gasoline. A four-cent tax increase would cost the driver of the car about $40 more for the year, or about $3.40 a month.
After three years, when the increase is fully phased in, the additional cost compared to today’s tax would be $100 a year, or about $8.40 a month. The price of gasoline and diesel fuel themselves vary much more, up and down, than 10 cents over a year’s time.
The full 10-cent increase would boost the state’s fuel tax revenues by some $230 million annually, erasing the shortfall in combatting urgent road and bridge needs.
Fuel tax in Iowa is paid by in-state and out-of-state drivers alike.
Other suggestions for growing road repair revenues, such as hiking the fee for vehicle purchases or eliminating the exemption for farm fuel, could reduce the 10-cent suggestion somewhat.
Road and bridge repair costs don’t get cheaper if they’re put off — just the opposite.
Over time, the basic cost goes up through inflation, and more deterioration means higher costs as well.
It’s past the time when leaders should lead — cost-conscious legislators and administrators should know that by now.
As the TV ad used to say, “Pay me now or pay me later.”