Editor’s note: This article has been updated as new information is confirmed in this developing story.
A bill that proposes a 10-cent increase in Iowa’s motor fuel taxes, as well as other changes to transportation funding, passed the House Ways and Means Committee on a 13-12 vote today, but not without a whole lot of drama.
In the morning, two staunch opponents of House File 351, state Reps. Jake Highfill (R-Johnston) and Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant) were removed from the committee. Highfill was permanently reassigned to the Appropriations Committee, and replaced by state Rep. Brian Moore (R-Bellevue) while Nunn was asked to step aside for the day and was replaced by Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) himself.
“I’m opposed to a 10-cent gas-tax,” Nunn said. “Leadership is aware of my position. I am the only freshman on Ways and Means, but I’ve held my ground against an increase that does not best serve my constituents. I remain strongly opposed to a simple tax that I believe will not solve the long-term challenges facing our rural roads and bridges and I intend to vote accordingly on the floor.”
Highfill did not respond to a request for comment from The Iowa Statesman, but he did confirm his removal to other media outlets. Josie Albrecht, spokeswoman for the Iowa House Republican Caucus, provided the following statement from Paulsen:
“It is clear a majority of the both House caucuses want to weigh on the issue of road funding. In order to allow that to happen I have made two changes to the House Ways & Means Committee. With these changes the bill will move through committee to the House floor for a full debate.”
HF 351 passed the House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon with the support of eight Republicans and five Democrats; six members from each party voted against the bill leaving committee. The proposed legislation now faces stiff bipartisan opposition in the House, fueled largely by widespread opposition by Iowa voters, but floor debate is expected to begin as early as Tuesday.
Representatives who voted for the bill were: Dave Maxwell (R-Gibson, vice chairman), Josh Byrnes (R-Osage), Greg Forristall (R-Macedonia), Lee Hein (R-Monticello), Linda Miller (R-Bettendorf), Moore, Paulsen, Matt Windschitl (R-Sioux City), Dave Jacoby (D-Coralville, ranking member), Timi Brown-Powers (D-Waterloo), Mary Gaskill (D-Ottumwa), Charles Isenhart (D-Dubuque), and Jerry Kearns (D-Keokuk). Those voting against the bill were: Thomas Sands (R-Wapello, chairman), Chip Baltimore (R-Boone), Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines), Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford), Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights), Guy Vander Linden (R-Oskaloosa), Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque), Dan Kelley (D-Newton), Charlie McConkey (D-Council Bluffs), Todd Prichard (D-Charles City), Patti Ruff (D-McGregor), and Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City).
A companion Senate bill, Senate File 257, passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee today on an 8-6 vote. Seven Democrats and one Republican voted to move the bill out of committee for a floor vote, while four Republicans and two Democrats voted against the bill. State Sen. Bill Anderson (R-Pierson) was absent from the vote. According to Senate rules, SF 257 can come to the floor for a vote Monday.
Senators who voted for the bill were: Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City, chairman), Michael Breitbach (R-Strawberry Point), Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo), Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque), Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines), Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines), and Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames). Those voting against the bill were: Chaz Allen (D-Newton, vice chairman), Randy Feenstra (R-Hull, ranking member), Jerry Behn (R-Boone), Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig), Joe Seng (D-Davenport), and Roby Smith (R-Davenport).
Recent polls suggest opposition to the bill and its Senate companion bill ranges from 2-to-1 to 3-to-1 against passing the proposed legislation. Gov. Branstad has said “the time is right” for a gas tax increase, and the measure is backed by dozens of lobbyist groups in the state.