Legislators in two states attempted to address deteriorating roads and bridges in their communities. Action in N.H. and the end of the legislative season in Iowa occurred on May 23, one day before the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge in Washington state.
Dan Tuohy writes that the New Hampshire Senate voted 18-6 on May 23 to "indefinitely postpone" House Bill 617 which would have increased the state's gas tax by 12 cents over three years, or 67%. Prior to that vote, a vote to re-refer the bill to committee died, "effectively nixing it this session."
John Distaso of the New Hampshire Union Leader writes that the earlier vote "means the 'subject matter' of the bill cannot be resurrected again in the current two-year session."
The gas tax bill became entangled with a bill to legalize one "high-end" casino, passed by the Senate and blocked by the House. Senators may have opposed the gas tax bill as retribution for blocking their casino bill, writes Tuohy.
"This is obviously retribution for the gambling vote," said Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, the chief House gas tax hike sponsor. His bill called for the first hike in the gasoline tax in the state since 1991, from the current 18 cents to 30 cents a gallon over three years at 4-cent increments and for diesel fuel over six years at 2-cent increments. (Union Leader)
Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, warned, "You are closing the door on our being able to discuss our roads and bridges, our red-listed bridges, including Interstate 93 and the Sarah Long Bridge in Portsmouth. It's a huge parliamentary mistake." (Union Leader)
Meanwhile, in the Midwest, Mike Wiser of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier writes on May 24 that the legislative season ended with no action taken to hike the fuel tax to act on recommendations made by a commission.
Lawmakers have debated raising the state's fuel tax, which has not increased since 1989 and is set at 22 cents, for years. In 2012, a commission appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad recommended an increase of 8 to 10 cents, plus boosts in certain fees, to pay for the backlog of road repairs estimated at $250 million annually.
Draft language for a bill was written by the Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee "that would raise the fuel tax by a dime over a three-year period."
Some of the state's most influential and moneyed lobbying groups lined up behind the tax increase, including the road builders and general contractors.
But it faced stiff opposition from the Republican Party of Iowa and anti-tax groups such as Americans For Prosperity. Ultimately, the fuel tax was never called for a vote after a trio of Senate Republicans indicated they would no longer support an increase, even though they once had.
However, unlike the N.H. gas tax bill, Wiser notes that the failure to take action "practically ensures some form of a fuel tax proposal will come back in 2014." In addition, the politics in Iowa is very different than in N.H. In Iowa, Republicans are both sponsoring and opposing the bill.
Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, called the failure of the fuel tax one of the session's "disappointments."
"I represent a rural areas and a lot of people out in the countryside, farmers in particular, like a gas tax. They think we need to get the roads fixed, especially in the rural areas," he said.