ALTOONA, Iowa | A key Senate leader said Friday that Democrats had the votes to pass a state gas tax increase last session but that the bipartisan measure stalled due to lack of support among legislative Republicans.
Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, told an Iowa Taxpayer Association forum “we had the votes lined up on our side” for a proposal to phase in a fuel tax boost of up 10 cents a gallon over several years, “but it just didn’t happen.”
Jochum said there was an agreement that there would have to be a proportional amount of bipartisan support – 14 Democrats and 13 Republicans in the Iowa Senate and 28 Republicans and 24 Democrats in the Iowa House – for a politically volatile issue like raising the state gas tax. She said Senate Democrats worked hard to get the votes to do that but there was not enough GOP support.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said it was his “understanding there wasn’t 26 votes in the Senate” where Democrats hold a 26-24 majority, but he dodged questions regarding where the vote count in a gas tax increase stood in the House, which is run by Republicans with a 53-47 majority.
“I’m not going to tell you my vote card, if that’s what you’re asking me for,” he said.
Paulsen said some of the revenue-raising ideas suggested by state transportation director Paul Trombino likely will get discussion next session but that a proposal to end an exemption for farmers on fuel they use to run their equipment likely would not advance. The ideas under study -- which include increased fees, tax swaps and other proposals – are designed to pump money into a "critical" infrastructure repair backlog the Iowa Department of Transportation estimates at $215 million a year.
“There is no consensus at this point in time,” the House Speaker said.
On the income tax side, Paulsen told the taxpayer group he would welcome changes to cut personal income and corporate taxes for Iowans next session and advocated an idea backed by Gov. Terry Branstad to offer the option of a flat tax with limited deductions for taxpayers who did not want to stick with the current arrangement that allows federal taxes to be deducted on state returns.
“We think it’s time to do an income tax cut in the state of Iowa,” Paulsen said.
However, Jochum said corporate taxes aren’t on her agenda next session and Senate Republican “have never been fond of a flat tax” that is regressive, adding, “If we’re going to address income tax in this state, we really need to figure out how to reduce the amount of tax paid by middle-income families. They earn the least, but they pay the highest percent of their income in tax.”
Paulsen said he expects 2014 will be an “accelerated” session that takes initial steps to encourage jobs for returning veterans and expand broadband access, moves that set up additional action in 2015. He said last year’s session produced several “home runs” in property tax, health care and education reforms but that 2014 will be more about “singles or doubles.”
“We’ll get some good things done,” he said. “They probably won’t be as dramatic as what we got done last year. They will set things up for 2015.”