At the meeting of the US 20 Corridor Association held in Sac City this week, State Rep. Dave Tjepkes (R-Gowrie) told the group he fears inaction or appeasement at best regarding TIME-21 funding this legislative session.
TIME-21 policy language passed in a near unanimous, bi-partisan fashion in 2007. Among the findings of the TIME-21 study addressed in the legislation was the need for an additional $200 million in transportation funding annually to provide for new construction.
Over the interim, a TIME-21 legislative study committee was appointed. (Rep. Tjepkes is a member of that committee.) They unanimously agreed to consider a gas tax increase as well as a combination of other fee changes to reach the funding goal set forth in TIME-21. Yet, Rep. Tjepkes reported, they were thwarted before the 2008 legislative session began with Governor Chet Culver publicly stating his opposition to raising the gas tax, declaring it DOA.
In discussing the gas tax, Rep. Tjepkes encouraged members of the US 20 Corridor Association to think in broad terms and look at it as a user fee rather than a tax increase. "We believe the gas tax has to be part of the solution," he remarked. "If there is such a thing as a fair tax, this is it. We know from studies, 30 percent of all diesel tax revenue comes from out of state vehicles. And 16 percent of revenues of the gas tax come from vehicles other than Iowa vehicles."
Other funding options include changing the pickup registration fee structure to weight and value like all other vehicles as well as equalization of other registration fees. "There are 300,000 vehicles in Iowa paying $28 per year or less for registration at this time," Rep. Tjepkes stated.
Some elected officials are backing away from funding TIME-21 even though the policy passed, claiming they did not campaign on the issue. Rep. Tjepkes reminded the Association that transportation and connecting corridors like US 20 were addressed in the Grow Iowa Values policy as well, so this is not new.
"I'm afraid what we see this year will be simply appeasement - the legislature will do something with fees and be able to say, "See, we did something.' but then walk away from addressing the real needs expressed in TIME-21," Rep. Tjepkes concluded.
The US 20 Corridor Association will address TIME-21 with state legislators when they visit the Capitol with other highway coalitions on January 23. "We believe transportation infrastructure is of the utmost importance, especially completion of four-lane US 20 across Iowa which will be the final step in the Access Iowa legislation," said Shirley Phillips, president of the US 20 Corridor Association and executive director of Sac Economic and Tourism Development. "As a developer, I lose potential businesses consistently because we are not within 30 miles of a four-lane highway. My fellow developers in northwest Iowa can tell the same story. We need four-laneUS 20 to open the doors to opportunity for this underserved region of the state."
More information on the US 20 Corridor Association can be gained by visiting www.4lane20.com.