Miller-Meeks: Increase in fuel tax could pay for infrastructure

Iowa State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks addresses the Greater Des Moines Partnership via Zoom as part of her run for the 2nd Congressional District seat. (Screenshot via Greater Des Moines Partnership)

GOP congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks on Thursday said her top priority would be an infrastructure bill, assuming the coronavirus pandemic is under control before she would take office in January. 

“We really need a big infrastructure bill,” Miller-Meeks told the Greater Des Moines Partnership. “I had expected it before this. I know President Trump had talked about it when he was campaigning.” 

Miller-Meeks, a state senator from Ottumwa, is running against Democrat Rita Hart, a former state senator, to decide who replaces retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack in the 2nd Congressional District. 

Miller-Meeks said the infrastructure needs are clear, but the source of cash to pay for the work is less so.

“The question is, how do we pay for that? We know that with electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, our road-use tax revenues have decreased,” Miller-Meeks said. “Our state in fact increased its fuel tax several years ago to try to adjust and adapt for that. I would be glad to pay a higher registration fee for my hybrid vehicle to help pay” for infrastructure projects, she added.

Governments have struggled as Americans drive less, or drive more-efficient vehicles. That means they buy less fuel, and pay less taxes that traditionally have paid for road work.

“I think we all know that our bridges, our locks on the Mississippi River, our dams, our highways” need work, Miller-Meeks said. “Some of our roads in Ottumwa are terrible.” 

Congress needs to pass an infrastructure bill covering five to 10 years of projects, possibly paid for by an increase in the federal fuel tax, Miller-Meeks said. At the same time, the federal government should back research into how to make roads last longer, she added.

Miller-Meeks fielded questions from business representatives on a variety of topics. (Hart will have a similar session at 10 a.m. Oct. 22). The sessions were arranged by the Partnership, Young Professionals Connection and the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute.

PANDEMIC

“For me, it’s not a partisan issue. I think we need to get beyond finger-pointing and blame. I believe that at the beginning of the pandemic, we responded correctly by closing things down. And that’s because we just didn’t know enough about the virus to be able to know what we needed to do, and how safe it was. And this has been a very tricky virus. What I do reject is the narrative that this is life versus the economy. Make no mistake about it, we have all sacrificed through the pandemic. This is life versus life.”

IMMIGRATION

“I think there needs to be a lot of policy changes. I work with people who immigrated here from a variety of different countries. They’re wonderful people. They add tremendous benefit to our community, both locally, throughout the state and nationally. We see immigrants who are the heads of Fortune 500 companies that bring ideas energy, motivation, different perspectives, and a work ethic into our country.

“For someone who comes to work in this country. comes here legally, for it to take 12 to 16 years to become a legal citizen is way too long. We need to revamp the immigration system so we have faster immigration. We do need to have a guest worker program.”

ECONOMY

“I do not agree with closing the economy to handle the pandemic. I think we need to learn from this. When it comes to handling the federal debt, you can either decrease spending, or you can increase revenue. I do think we need to look at our spending levels and where we spend money. Do we have a return on investment? Do the programs we have in place do what they were intended to do? Do they have an outcome? Do we heaven have an outcome measure? … We have a balanced budget amendment in the state of Iowa and I think there should be a balanced budget amendment at the federal level.”