DES MOINES | Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that raising the gas tax is very unpopular among Iowans but he is not following his predecessor’s lead and pledging to veto an increase if state lawmakers decide to send a bill to his desk next session.

“No I’ve never said that,” Branstad told his weekly news conference. “That was Chet Culver that threatened that. I don’t operate that way. I didn’t threaten to veto it and I don’t intend to.”

At the same time, the governor – who signed the last gas tax increase that took effect in Iowa in 1989 – said he wants to see if a bipartisan consensus can emerge among a number of alternative options being considered that would generate more constitutionally protected revenue from users of the transportation system.

“The goal would be over the next couple of months: Does a consensus develop around something or not? And, I guess time will tell whether that happens,” Branstad said. If an agreement emerges, he said he would include a recommendation on how to address a projected annual shortfall of $215 million for critical road and bridge repair needs during his Condition of the State address next Jan. 14.

“So I’m just saying stay tuned and you’ll see if I decide to recommend something or not,” he added. “It might be a situation where we don’t choose to recommend something, but we continue to work with the Legislature to see if we can develop a bipartisan consensus on something that can eventually pass.”

Last week, Paul Trombino, director of the state Department of Transportation, said he has had positive discussions with state legislators and stakeholder groups about possible options to generate more revenue to address critical transportation upgrades. However, he added that he is not at the point yet where he is ready to endorse any of the nine options he has put on the table for consideration that include increased fees and tax swaps.

The list includes increasing the fee for new registration from 5 percent to 6 percent; applying state excise sales tax on dyed fuel sales, which are used in farm vehicles and not currently taxed for state road fund purposes; increasing the oversize/overweight vehicle permit fees; and eliminating the state per-gallon fuel tax and replace with a state excise sales tax on fuel that would bring a 6 percent sales tax on a wholesale level.

“I’m interested to see what kind of support there might be for those ideas and other ideas,” Branstad said Monday.

“I do respect the fact that a lot of Iowans are very concerned about the high cost of commuting to work and raising the gas tax is not a popular thing with the citizens of this state,” he added. “I’m interested in working with everybody to see what is the art of the possible and what are the options that make the most sense.”