Legislators say no gas tax talk yet

Two area legislators said they have not had any talk at the State Capitol about raising the gas tax to pay for roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements in the state.

Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, and Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, took part in a legislative forum sponsored by the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce Friday. It was the first Chamber forum of the 2013 legislative session.

Sodders said when he was campaigning last year the proposed gas tax hike was not met warmly by voters in his district. At the same time, Sodders said there is a need for road and bridge improvements in the state.

“We have to look at something,” Sodders said.

Sodders has proposed an idea to save counties money on roads – to actually close gravel roads with no houses and low traffic on them to save on maintenance.

“Other counties are looking at doing the same thing,” Sodders said.

On the topic of education, Smith feels state legislators owe it to the school districts to set the allowable growth rate so schools can plan their budgets. The Senate has already passed 4 percent allowable growth and the House has yet to act on it.

“Schools need to be setting their budgets very soon so this issue needs to be addressed,” Smith said.

Smith said his colleagues are split on whether the education reform plan should allow for longtime teachers to be pulled from the classroom and serve as more of a mentor to newer teachers. He said there is some consensus on the fact the teacher base pay should be raised.

As far as the $800 million state surplus, both Smith and Sodders feel other budget issues have to be worked out before deciding if that money should go back to Iowans in the form of a tax credit, as House Republicans are proposing.

Smith said they are not sure how much education reform and mental health redesign is going to cost the state and Sodders brought up the drought, which also may need state funds.

“To me right now there are a number of variables,” Smith said.