Two weeks ago the Governor’s Transportation 2020 Citizen’s Advisory Commission set forth its recommendations in a report the commission will submit to the Department of Transportation in the next couple of weeks. The commission is comprised of county and city representatives, the former director of the Department of Transportation, and several non-voting legislators. The commission’s charge was to find ways to increase funds for public roadways. It is estimated that the critical funding shortfall is about $215 annually.
The most controversial recommendation set forth by the commission is an across-the-board state fuel tax increase of between eight and ten cents. Currently, the state has a gas tax of 22 cents per gallon—a number that has not changed since 1989. One cent of that tax goes toward the cleaning of leaking underground storage tanks, and the remaining 21 cents is used for road work. Another recommendation by the commission is an increase in the “fee for new registration” from five percent to six percent. This fee increase combined with the increase in fuel tax would raise about $280 million annually to fund road repairs.
The commission also recommends that the Department of Transportation study and make recommendations to the legislature regarding alternatively fueled vehicles, hybrids, and other high efficiency cars that pay no or limited fuel tax. The recommendation will include a funding mechanism or user fee that requires these vehicles to pay for their share of the use of Iowa’s road system. The commission stated that the funding resulting from their recommendations should first go to Time-21 (up to the cap) and then be distributed according to the Road Use Tax Fund distribution formula.
The commission also made some recommendations not related to funding in the immediate future. It asked that the Department of Transportation review the funding levels of the Road Use Tax Fund and the needs of Iowa’s roadways every two years to coincide with the biennial budget. Currently, the Iowa Code requires this study be done every five years. It also recommended that the Department of Transportation hold meetings with the cities and counties to assess and identify possible ways to increase efficiency and reduce administrative costs of maintaining and constructing roads, leaving more money for actual road improvements.
One final recommendation made by the commission asked the Department to study vehicles and equipment that utilize Iowa’s road system, but currently pay little or no user fees. The Department of Transportation should recommend how to modify user fees across all vehicles that use the roads so that they are equitable. The commission’s recommendations are currently being drafted into a final report that will likely be voted on at their October 26 meeting. That report will then be submitted to the Department of Transportation who will decide which recommendations to pursue in 2012. The Governor has publically stated that he wants to study the recommendations before taking an official position.