We will keep an open mind on whatever package of road funding ideas the administration of Gov. Terry Branstad introduces during the next session of the Legislature.
One idea discussed in a Sunday story from the Journal's Des Moines bureau raised concerns for us. Under this proposal, farmers would lose the tax exemption on so-called red-dye fuel they use to operate equipment. Instead, the money would go into a new Modern Agriculture Infrastructure Fund for repair of rural roads and bridges.
The idea was included in a two-page memo about possibilities for road-and-bridge funding the Branstad administration shared with a select number of state lawmakers and lobbyists in advance of the 2014 legislative session.
Understandably, the proposal about red-dye fuel isn't getting love from the Iowa Farm Bureau.
"The red dye, by definition, is used in vehicles that aren't used on the roads," Don Petersen, IFB's director of government affairs, said in the story. "That's not something that we could support. It goes against the idea of user fees, which is what we support."
Our initial reaction was similarly negative. Here's why:
Our hope is whatever, if any new ideas the Legislature embraces for providing additional transportation infrastructure money include more than just loss of tax exemptions and increased fees for Iowans.
In our minds, one of the biggest selling points to raising the gas tax (something we support) is the fact out-of-state users of roads and bridges in Iowa share the burden of generating more dollars for upkeep and new construction.
The transportation infrastructure challenges we face in Iowa are large and growing. According to the Department of Transportation, the annual deficit between road-and-bridge needs and the revenue available to meet them is almost $1.5 billion; for critical needs, more than $250 million.
An investment of more money for transportation infrastructure is essential to our state's future. To this end, we welcome discussion - including creative, out-of-the-box thinking - of transportation needs.
In the end, however, we hope Iowans aren't the only users of the state's roads and bridges who will be asked for more. Out-of-state drivers should contribute, too.
Sioux City Journal
Nov. 1, 2013