A bill that would raise Iowa’s gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad’s desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.
A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.
Only two state legislators missed today’s votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn’t serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today’s votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: “I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote.” Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.
Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor’s recent comments on road funding. Branstad’s spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.
After the jump I’ve enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman’s opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.
Final note: several of the “no” votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).
28 State Senators voted for Senate File 257
21 State Senators voted against SF 257
Mary Jo Wilhelm
Republican Mark Chelgren was absent for today’s votes.
53 state representatives voted for SF 257
Mary Ann Hanusa
46 state representatives voted against SF 257
Ruth Ann Gaines
Guy Vander Linden
Republican Chip Baltimore took part in most of today’s votes but skipped the vote on this bill.
Iowa Senate news release, February 24:
Making roads safer and strengthening the Iowa economy
Opening remarks on SF 257
by Senator Tod Bowman, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee
Today in the Iowa Senate, we, a bipartisan group of legislators, will address a huge problem for Iowa.
We will vote to increase funding for Iowa’s roads and bridges. By doing so, we will help create jobs for Iowans, attract new businesses to our state, and make Iowa drivers safer.
Iowa’s roads and bridges are in rough shape.
• 46 percent of our major roads are in poor to mediocre condition.
• 26 percent of our bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete.
Many of our rural bridges are closed or have weight restrictions because there’s no money to repair them.
This neglect puts Iowa families in danger every time they drive, and it makes businesses hesitant to locate or expand in our state.
Good roads and bridges are KEY to Iowa’s economic growth and prosperity. Business leaders say bad roads are one of Iowa’s most serious economic development weaknesses.
We can’t continue to kick this can down the road.
Iowa’s Road Use Fund is NOT taking in enough money for the work that needs to be done. Just to cover our most critical projects, we need an extra $215 million a year.
How did we get into this dire situation?
• Newer cars have become significantly more fuel efficient.
• The number of miles Iowans drive has plateaued.
• Construction costs have increased… both labor and materials.
Iowa: We are not alone. Most states face a similar problem.
Efficiencies? We continue to make the Iowa DOT even more efficient, but efficiencies alone are not the solution.
In rural areas, counties are borrowing money-and paying interest-to maintain roads and bridges. Borrowing money costs more, and the costs are only paid for by local property tax payers… not road users.
The bill before us today, Senate File 257, will increase funding for our roads so that Iowa families are safer, and the economy grows.
This bill raises the per-gallon tax on fuel by 10 cents. That will pay for Iowa’s most critical road and bridge projects.
The bill will also:
· Limit how counties bond for road and bridge projects.
· Increase permit fees for oversized and overweight vehicles.
· Establish a formula for taxing biofuels as their market share increases, similar to what we do with ethanol.
· Require legislative review of road funding and fuel taxes every six years.
· Instruct the DOT to find an additional $20 million in savings over the next two years.
· Extend the Access Iowa Highway plan, which ensures priority funding for the roads that contribute most to our state’s economic vitality.
While many solutions have been proposed, SF 257 represents a broad consensus of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House, along with Governor Branstad.
This bill maintains the three core principles of Iowa’s approach to road funding:
1- It is a fiscally responsible, pay-as-you-go approach.
2- The revenue is constitutionally protected for roadwork only.
3- It is a user fee concept. Those who use the roads (including out-of-state drivers) pay for them.
By working together, we will solve a huge problem for Iowa and strengthen the Iowa economy for years to come.