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County officials support increased fuel tax

BY DANIEL SEIDL | DECEMBER 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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According to Johnson County officials, changes need to be made to keep the roads and bridges of the county in functioning condition.

Improving roads and infrastructure is one of the top priorities for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, according to their list of 2014 priorities. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 report, 21.2 percent of Iowa bridges are structurally deficient, and 46 percent of Iowa’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

To fund improvements in infrastructure, the supervisors are pushing for an increase to the gas tax. Roads and infrastructure are of key importance to Johnson County citizens, Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said.

“Our road infrastructure continues to be a concern for our residents,” he said.  “The quality of life of residents, as well as their safety, depends on a good road-infrastructure system.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the change needs to happen because of the disrepair of Iowa infrastructure.

“Our roads and bridges are falling apart,” he said. “It’s time to … raise the gas tax.”

The current gas tax is 22 cents per gallon. It has been that amount since 1989, despite the cost of gas rising from an average of $1.02 to $3.08 per gallon, according to the supervisors’ agenda. Of the tax, 21 cents go toward maintaining the roads, and 1 cent goes toward underground storage tank cleanup.

According to the document, the supervisors have raised property taxes to pay for the roads, but there is a state-mandated limit on property taxes for roads, and the county is quickly approaching it.

Bolkcom said a higher gas tax makes more sense because people who use the roads more frequently will pay for their upkeep, and it will prevent other taxes from rising.

“If the counties get more money from the state [through the gas tax], they won’t have to raise property taxes [any more],” he said. “It’s a user fee. About 25 percent of the money raised is paid for by people who drive on our roads but don’t live in Iowa.”

Despite support of some legislators such as Bolkcom, Neuzil said he doesn’t expect the tax to be raised this year.

“I’m not optimistic that the Legislature or the governor has the … political will to address this issue this year,” he said. “Unfortunately, politics range, particularly at that level.”

The Governor’s Office was unable to be reached by press time.

Supervisor John Etheredge said he agrees with the increased tax, as long as it is handled well.

“I’m not opposed to an increase in the fuel tax,” he said. “What I am opposed to is a large spike … in the fuel tax. You don’t want to have a spike in any sort of taxes.”

Etheredge also brought up the possibility of completely funding the roads through the fuel tax and lowering property taxes significantly, though he said this was somewhat unlikely because of the cost of road maintenance.

“[It] would be a great thing for the county not to have to bond for roads [using property tax],” he said. “To actually have it completely funded by the user fee.”

Currently, he said, Iowa has lower fuel prices than some neighboring states, though a significant increase in the tax could change this.

Other legislators, including Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, disagree with an increased fuel tax. Guth said that while he thinks the fuel tax is a good idea in general, he doesn’t think it should be any higher.

“I think we have surplus dollars in our coffers at the moment, and I don’t think we need to be raising taxes,” he said. “I would not be willing to support a road tax unless there is … an equal and offsetting tax reduction someplace.”


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