10-cent fuel tax hike to fund road improvements approved; Branstad 'very likely' to sign


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Tonya Osborn, from Ames, waits for a receipt at a gas station Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015 in Des Moines. The Iowa Senate approved a 10-cent increase to the state fuel tax to help pay for road improvements Tuesday with Democrats and Republicans supporting the bill. It now moves to the Iowa House, where it is also expected to pass. (AP Photo/Kourtney Liepelt)

DES MOINES, Iowa — After years of conflict over whether to increase the state fuel tax to pay for road improvements, the Iowa Legislature gave bipartisan support to a 10-cent increase Tuesday.

The bill won approval 28-21 in the Iowa Senate and 53-46 in the Iowa House. The plan would provide over $200 million annually for the state's network of bridges and roads, many of which are in disrepair.

The tax has not been raised since 1989.

If signed by Gov. Terry Branstad before the end of February, the price change will go into effect March 1. Branstad told The Associated Press he wants to review the bill, but indicated he was "very likely" to sign it.

"There's a critical need for additional money for the roads and bridges of the state of Iowa," the Republican said.

For years, the Legislature has considered raising the fuel tax — currently 22 cents per gallon of gasoline, including fees — but never took any action, despite heavy lobbying by groups representing farmers and trucking companies.

But this year, Branstad voiced his backing for increased infrastructure funding, sparking a more serious conversation. The low price of gasoline and the fact that it's not an election year, also helped set the stage.

Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, has been a longtime advocate for raising the tax. In the House debate, he called infrastructure maintenance "an essential function of government."

"I don't want to be the state that inhibits economic development and growth because we don't want to address our infrastructure," he said.

Some lawmakers in both chambers expressed concerns about the impact the bill would have on poor Iowa residents and how well it will fund road improvements across the state.

"I represent some of the poorest counties in Iowa, people who truly do live from paycheck to paycheck," said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton. "Lots of people in my district cannot absorb that."

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, the increase will provide about $204 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The annual funding generated will decrease slightly over five years, according to the analysis.

State transportation officials have argued for years that the state needs additional infrastructure dollars. The Iowa Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released a report Tuesday gave Iowa a C- for its roads and a D+ for bridges, based on state and federal data.

The state's diesel fuel has a slightly higher tax and ethanol blends are a bit lower. Drivers also pay a federal tax at the pump.

A recent Des Moines Register poll of 807 people showed that 50 percent of residents oppose raising the tax and 48 percent support it; the margin of error was 3.5 percent. Public support has consistently increased since 2011, according to past polls.

Those filling up at a QuikTrip gas station in downtown Des Moines had mixed reactions Tuesday.

"We're already paying enough as it is," said Sherry Robinson, 49, of Des Moines.

But Paul Mikkelsen, 57, of Adel, said he understood the need for an increase, noting: "These things aren't free, and they've been neglected for a long time."

Associated Press writers Barbara Rodriguez and Kourtney Liepelt contributed to this report.

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