This morning Governor Terry Branstad signed Senate File 257, which raises the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon and includes several other provisions related to transportation funding, permit fees, and fuel taxes. The Iowa House and Senate just approved the bill yesterday, with substantial bipartisan support and opposition in both chambers.
Gas tax revenues go into Iowa’s Road Use Tax Fund, which distributes money among state, county and local governments according to a set formula. Because Iowa lawmakers did not incorporate any “fix it first” language in Senate File 257, I remain concerned that the bulk of the new money will be spent on new road construction or building new lanes on existing roads, rather than on fixing the crumbling infrastructure that was cited to justify this tax increase. Branstad already signaled as much this morning:
Branstad said having the tax hike go into effect March 1 means the state will collect more fuel taxes than expected in the last four months of the state fiscal year – and the starting date for some road and bridge projects may be moved up.
“Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up,” Branstad said, “and this is a way that hopefully that and other key projects can get priority and be expedited.”
The project to expand all 300 miles of the Highway 20 route from Dubuque and Sioux City into a divided four-lane highway began 50 years ago. Branstad told reporters this morning that he’s recently talked with the Iowa DOT’s director about speeding up the Highway 20 project.
Current Road Use Tax Fund revenues fall an estimated $215 million short of what Iowa needs annually to maintain existing infrastructure. According to the fiscal note produced by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 257 will bring in a little more than $200 million in additional funds each year for the next several years. Money spent on new roads or new lanes on roads like Highway 20 won’t help us catch up with ongoing maintenance needs. How many structurally deficient bridges won’t be fixed because four-laning Highway 20 was expedited? The same dynamic could play out in many counties and local governments too, because new roads or road expansions are often seen as better economic development than fixing a road or bridge that’s in bad shape.