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Iowa ag secretary reluctantly endorses raising motor fuel tax

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

JOHNSTON – Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey grudgingly endorsed a gas tax increase if no other way to can be found to pay for maintaining the state’s road system.

“Boy, you can see a lot of problems in the countryside — bridges, gravel roads … even the paved roads in the countryside as well as we can see it in the state system,” Northey (pictured) said May 25. “So I hear from a lot of folks that we need to find additional ways to be able to repair some of those.”

Speaking on Iowa Public Television’ Iowa Press, Northey was responding to ’s suggestion a week ago on the show that “next year’s the year” for the Legislature to raise the gas tax.

“I think it could well be,” Northey said. “It would seem like that’s what’s necessary.”

Branstad encouraged lawmakers not to raise the current fuel taxes — 21 cents per gallon on unleaded gasoline, 19 cents per gallon for ethanol-blended fuels and 22.5 cents a gallon for diesel – this year. Instead, he directed the Department of Transportation to find efficiencies. A governor’s task force found $50 million in savings that were redirected to road work.

That was the right approach, Northey said, because it’s necessary to know “we’re doing the absolute best job we can before we go looking for that gas tax increase. So when we get that next gas tax increase – if we do it – we know that it’s all going toward roads and not going toward other kinds of projects.”

Given the state of disrepair of roads and bridges, it seems clear the current gas tax, which hasn’t changed since 1989, isn’t generating the revenue necessary to maintain roads and bridges, Northey said.

“I’m afraid that we’re seeing our infrastructure go backwards right now, at least with the current rates,” said Northey, who is in his second four-year term leading the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. “Our folks 10 and 20 years from now are not going to thank us if we don’t do our share in keeping this up.”

Branstad’s task force recommended raising the state gas tax as well as new fees on electric vehicles, hybrids and vehicles that run on natural gas or propane.

Northey, a Spirit Lake farmer, isn’t a fan of a tax hike, but doesn’t see a way around it.

“I hear a lot of folks in the countryside that don’t want more taxes that will say these are user fees that are necessary to make sure that we have the roads that we need and the bridges repaired that we need to have repaired,” Northey said.

Iowa Press can be seen at on IPTV at 7:30 p.m. May 25 and noon May 27 as well as at 8:30 a.m. May 26 and at www.iptv.org beginning the evening of May 25.

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