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Editorial: Raise the gas tax

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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It is becoming increasingly clear that the appropriate adjective to describe the state of Iowa’s road infrastructure is dismal.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report last year slamming the state’s infrastructure as decrepit, finding that 21.2 percent of Iowa’s bridges were structurally deficient in addition to the 5.2 percent of the state’s bridges that are functionally obsolete.

The same report found that around 46 percent of Iowa’s roads are in need of some sort of repair, whether it be potholes or road cracks. Continually ignoring these problems will reportedly cost Iowans $756 million annually in vehicle-repair costs, around $351 per driver. Alongside this report, the federal governemnt ranked the state 38th in the nation in terms of road conditions, not necessarily the state’s most flattering ranking.

If Iowa wishes to pride itself on being a beacon of modernity, efficiency, and progress, it is absolutely unacceptable to allow the state’s roads to collapse into a condition of disrepair.

So, it is quite obvious that it should be among the Statehouse’s top priorities to funnel money into repairing the state’s decaying roads.

However, the state can’t simply spend money without actually possessing it — the state can’t rely on deficit spending to finance such projects. That is why we propose that the state Legislature enact the 10-cent increase in the Iowa gas tax currently being weighed by some state politicians.

The tax, which currently stands at 22 cents per gallon, hasn’t been raised in 24 years, and now seems a perfect time to update it. Data suggest that raising the tax would generate $230 million annually, money that can be used to substantially upgrade Iowa’s roadways and would close the state’s $215 million annual shortfall in road funds.

The tax will, inevitably, affect the motorists who use Iowa’s roads. While this group of people will be disproportionally affected by higher gas prices, they are the group that will benefit the most from the construction funded by the tax; it is only fair that they be the ones who shoulder the cost.

A gas-tax increase, which originally seemed to have fairly dim hopes of passing, was given new life when an Iowa House subcommittee approved the measure, sending it to the floor for a vote. Gov. Terry Branstad himself has commented that he would be open-minded to increasing the gas tax.

It is not an imperative for the Legislature to increase the tax simply to improve the state roads. But at another level, it is a reaffirmation of the social contract that the state’s political class is supposed to uphold.

Our politicians are supposed to ensure the health and well-being of the society they govern. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty that insults both the citizens of this state and the democratic principles that form the very foundation of our political institutions.

It is because of all this that we urge the state’s political leaders to immediately introduce this gas-tax increase and rebuild both Iowa’s roads and the idea that government can be a force that betters of lives of everyday citizens.


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