The statewide discussion on infrastructure funding is really heating up but it seems that some are entering the discussion with a hidden agenda to stuff their own coffers while others are suffering from a case of tunnel vision; namely that raising the gas tax is the only available option for addressing any problems in our infrastructure needs. With that being said, there are some serious issues that should be examined and even some points on which I believe we can all agree.
Let’s start with what we can all agree on. We should all agree that infrastructure should be a top priority of state government. Sound roads and bridges are essential for both public safety and robust economic activity. We can also agree that those who utilize and benefit from the roads most, should bear the greatest burden in funding them. Proponents of raising the gas tax have also pointed out the problem we face with counties who are now bonding for roads, which is a valid concern and they tell us that we shouldn’t kick the can down the road.
Now that we have laid out the aspects that we can agree on, let’s discuss why taking the next step in calling for a gas tax increase is not just unnecessary, but also insufficient.
The state takes in more than enough money to address the issue of road funding. To disagree with the preceding sentence would mean that every other expenditure of the state is of equal or greater importance than sound roads. Just as Iowa families must distinguish between “wants” and “needs,” state government should be making tough decisions as well. This is where the argument about “user fees” usually resurfaces, but let’s be clear. If infrastructure is an integral part of economic growth, then we all benefit from it and we should all have some skin in the game.
As opposed as I am to increasing taxes on anything for almost any reason, the gas tax issue is even more clear to me because we know that it doesn’t fix the problem. The gas tax is a tax of diminishing return and one that would require constant increases to keep pace with rising labor and material costs. This is made even more problematic when we consider that vehicles are constantly becoming more fuel efficient. When the gas tax originated, no one was considering the potential problem that would arise when we starting putting hybrid and electric cars on the roads. Even more daunting is the rise of trucking fleets that are fueled with natural gas.
Utilizing a small portion of existing revenue from the state’s general fund is a much better long-term solution because it would further diversify the funding mechanism and index a portion of our Road Use Tax Fund to economic growth in the state. We can get reasonable projections of what the general fund is going to look like over then next few years, but nobody can tell you what gas prices are going to be next month. Gas prices are volatile and have a direct impact on consumer behavior and therefore gas tax revenue.
Iowans should oppose any effort to increase our gas tax and push the legislature to find a meaningful solution that addresses road funding for more than just the next few years. An easy way to do just that is to visit www.NoGasTaxIowa.com.