Iowa become the ninth last month when its split legislature and Republican Gov. Terry Branstad approved a 10-cent hike.
“This is a great example, on a difficult and controversial issue, of the kind of bipartisan cooperation that really makes Iowa stand out as a state where we work together and we get things done on behalf of the citizens of our state,” Branstad said, according to the Des Moines Register. The first part about bipartisanship was certainly true. But Iowa hardly stands out on the issue.
Wyoming approved its own 10-cent hike in February 2013, with Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia also passing hikes of various sizes in the intervening period, according to ITEP.
So many states have or are considering hiked gas taxes due to a confluence of factors that have starved infrastructure funding, which is in large part funded by those gas tax revenues. Cars are more fuel efficient, for example. And the federal gas tax, some of which is funneled to states, was last raised in 1993. As a result, the nation has reached the point where all federal, state, and local government infrastructure investments combined are enough only to cover wear and tear, the Brookings Institution’s David Wessel pointed out this week.
“Infrastructure spending, highways in particular, used to be popular with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress,” he wrote. “But, as the flap over the Highway Trust Fund and the gasoline tax indicate, any infrastructure spending bill is trapped by partisan gridlock and distrust. That accounts for at least some of the increasing appetite at the state and local levels for public-private partnerships.”
For their part, states, which with local governments invest much more in infrastructure than the federal government, have also been reluctant to raise gas taxes, which might explain why states can no longer say no to the tax hikes. In Utah, the last gas tax hike was in 1997. In Iowa, it was 1989.
Other states could soon join the group that has already passed increases. Michigan voters will have a chance to sign off on a gas tax hike in May, and the Georgia Senate is considering a House-passed increase. The legislatures in North Carolina, South Dakota and Washington are also seriously discussing gas tax reform. And another seven states — Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Carolina and Vermont — still have “a real shot at reform in 2015,” ITEP reports.