By Dawn Pettengill
I believe every day working at the Capitol is a blessing and a big responsibility. That’s why I do my best to make votes based on facts — by getting your input and doing my research.
One that is turning into a real killer decision is the fuel tax vote coming up. The last time the fuel tax was increased was in the late 80s. In 2006, a comprehensive study was done on road/bridge infrastructure needs. We were short of meeting those needs by about $220 million dollars a year. At that time, I made a commitment to support an increase in the fuel tax and have said so every year.
Nearly ten years later, we still haven’t increased the fuel tax and our lack of money for maintenance is showing. Cities and counties are borrowing money to fix roads when they should be able to count on money from the Road Use Tax Fund. Every penny of gas tax generates around $22 million for the Road Use Tax Fund, which is a Constitutionally protected fund reserved solely for roads and bridges.
Two years ago, the Governor told the DOT to find efficiencies. They did, reducing spending by $50 million. The dollars saved went to road repairs. We know there are more ways to find savings, but they don’t come close to $220 million a year.
After reaching out to my constituents, I received input on both sides of a fuel tax increase. Nobody wants to pay more, but some can see it is needed. Nobody wants to vote for it either, but some see the need. It is my job to make these decisions and I was supporting it. Like so many things in Des Moines, a couple of Democrats, Republicans and the Governor came together to see what everyone can agree on. When we got the bill last week from that select group, the bill has some “deals” in it that I’m not sure I can vote for.
The bill is supposed to be a money raiser for the Road Use Tax Fund, with a 10 cent fuel tax increase, $220 million. But included in that bill are a couple of decreases. One is a ten year ethanol differential that reduces the Road Use Tax Fund about $7.5 million a year. Okay, we are raising $220 million a year and then we give ethanol $7.5 million of it in the same bill? I support ethanol and have voted yes on this every year. But c’mon, let ethanol stand on its own. Also added was the same thing for biodiesel, only three cents a gallon instead of the two cents for ethanol. Again, these are supports for our Iowa economy, but it makes it harder to vote for the bill…adding to the cost of gas to fix roads and then cutting breaks in the same bill.
A few other things were added and I’m not as committed as I was before, but will do my best to keep you taxpayers at the desk with me when I make the final vote. I know one thing for sure. The fuel tax is the cheapest hit to your wallet and it hits harder the people who drive more, like me. That’s the way it should be. I don’t want people who drive to church once a week paying higher registration fees again. Stay tuned.
Also, hopefully this week we will finish out the supplemental state aid debate and get it to the Governor. We sent our bill over to the Senate three weeks ago and finally got their response late last week. Stay tuned there too.
If you have any concerns or questions, give me a call at 515-281-6879 or send an email to dawn.pettengill@legis.iowa.gov. I’m here for you!