This was the first week after the funnel, so the House of Representatives debated and passed around 35 bills. Most of these were non-controversial and received unanimous support. A couple of bills carried a little more controversy and passed pretty much along party lines.
All of this legislation is headed for the Senate, and they are sending us Senate files for consideration. We are closing in on the halfway point of the session, so things are moving pretty fast. We still need to put together and pass a balanced budget, and the Governor is pushing her own economic proposal pretty hard, so we are basically just getting started.
Most standing committees were cancelled this week so we could concentrate on floor debate. Budget sub-committees did meet however, and the Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals committee hosted a variety of presenters.
On Tuesday morning, several people from the Department of Transportation were here to explain their long and short-term goals and to present the Governor’s budget proposal for the Department. Most of us usually think the DOT only deals with roads, bridges, motor vehicles and licenses. The fact is, they are also responsible for air, rail, and water transportation, and the department helps airports and railroads with grants, planning, inspections, safety programs and technical assistance.
There are 4.5 million registered vehicles in Iowa, and 2.6 million driver’s license and ID customers. Also, there are about 135,000 oversized/overweight loads permitted per year, along with almost 900,000 commercial motor vehicles weighed or inspected each year.
These are pretty impressive numbers for a small state, and that is why the department’s focus is on winter maintenance, construction, traffic incident management and system operations. It is also why their budget request is close to $400 million for the coming fiscal year.
These dollars come primarily from fuel taxes and not the General Fund.
Several years ago, the Legislature voted to raise the fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon. While raising taxes is usually not very popular, some good things have happened as a result of the extra funding. Highway 20 in Northwest Iowa is now completed and needed repairs on other state highways are slowly being made. Another important fact is that since 2006, the number of structurally deficient bridges on the primary system (state roads) has fallen from 256 down to 39. This is quite significant.
A couple of weeks ago at a forum, I mentioned that the new Blackout License Plates had generated about $2 million for the road fund. The latest figures show that from July 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020, 107,000 blackout plates have been issued and that has generated $4.6 million for the road fund. That is impressive, and obviously they are popular.
You may reach me at the Capitol during the week by phoning me at 515-281-3221, or at home at 712-434-5880. You may write me at the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. My home address is P. O. Box 398, Aurelia, Iowa 51005. If you have email, please contact me at [email protected]