Iowa's gas tax hasn't been raised since 1989, and some transportation experts are saying it's time to put aside politics to raise money to fill the gap on a critical road funding shortfall.


Paul Trombino, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), Josh Byrnes, state representative and chairman of the Iowa Legislature's House Transportation Committee, and Dave Scott, executive director of the Iowa Good Roads Association, addressed the issue on Friday's Iowa Press show on Iowa Public Television.


The DOT has said it needs $215 million more per year to maintain and improve roads, and a citizen advisory council put together by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011 recommended an 8- to 10-cent increase in the gas tax to help make up the shortfall.


Some key points from the Iowa Press interview:

  • Byrnes, a Republican, said a gas tax increase hasn't gained political traction because of a fear of raising taxes. "And it's disappointing because really when it comes down to it, that infrastructure piece is an essential function of government," he said. He added that voting to increase the tax doesn't have to spell political doom. After the state raised the gas tax in 1989, Branstad won the 1990 reelection in a landslide. And in that election, "we could not find one legislator that you could go back and look and go "that's what cost them (reelection)," Scott said.
  • One point of discussion was to switch to a road-use tax based on the number of vehicle miles traveled, which could tax vehicles not dependent on gas. But Trombino said the technology to do that is not yet ready. Said Scott, "Even if we all agreed that the vehicle miles traveled (tax) is the way to go, we have critical needs that must be addressed now in the near future. It's going to be years down the road before the technology is in place to have a VMT tax so that your car is able to talk to a pump or whatever."
  • The DOT is looking at other taxes to raise money. One proposal is to increase the fee for new vehicle registrations to 6 percent from 5 percent. Another is to charge a tax on farm fuel. "Ultimately it will help (farmers) deliver their product to market and I think that is the key issue," Trombino said.
  • Scott pointed out the Reason Foundation's annual report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, showed Iowa ranking No. 33 in the nation. The state ranked poorly in the condition of both rural and urban interstates.