Transparency?
Just the Opposite on Gas-Tax Campaign!

by Dr. Don Racheter

Anyone who has been around a while knows politicians who have said one thing in a campaign, but then when they got elected did quite another thing. But it is rare for a whole group of politicians, especially those claiming to belong to the Republican Party, which has built its “brand name” on NOT raising taxes, to do so en masse.

And to add insult to injury, the recent increase in the Iowa gas tax of ten cents per gallon was done in the name of safety – fixing defective and dangerous roads and bridges. One group of tax-increase proponents went so far as to run a television commercial suggesting our children and grandchildren were going to die or be horribly maimed in a school bus crashing through a deficient bridge.

But once the tax was rushed into place (no wait until July 1, the usual start date for new laws in Iowa – this went into effect on March 1) the lies were revealed – the first use of the new tax money is not going to be used to fix existing dangerous roads and bridges, but to expand Highway 20 to a four-lane:

Iowa transportation leaders want to direct most of the early proceeds from a 10-cent gas-tax increase to central and western Iowa, including fast tracking a Highway 20 project in the northwest part of the state.[1]

The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) has also indicated they will use money from the newly increased tax to acquire land for future projects and to install guardrails. At least the latter might save a life, but it is a far cry from fixing existing defective and dangerous roads and bridges which was given as the justification for ramming this tax increase down the throats of Iowans, who were opposed to it by a very large margin:

A poll of Iowans conducted on January 6 and 7, 2015 for Iowans for Tax Relief found that more than three quarters of Iowans oppose a proposal to increase the gas tax ten cents a gallon (77.7% total oppose). Two-thirds of Iowans (66.3%) agreed with this statement: “Iowa state government has enough money to fix and maintain our roads and bridges, and we need smarter spending and better priority-setting instead of raising taxes.” The poll also found that Iowans want Legislators to look at alternatives to raising the gas tax before considering any tax increase; 63.7% want Legislators to look for other ways to improve Iowa roads and bridges. The poll conducted for Iowans for Tax Relief surveyed 400 registered voters from across the state.[2]

“Rammed through” is putting it mildly. The Speaker of the House took steps that have not been taken since before the 1960s to ensure passage – on the day the gas tax was to be considered by the House Ways and Means Committee, he removed two members who were opposed and appointed himself and another “yes vote” to the committee in order for it to move to the floor on a 13-12 vote.[3]

The truly unfortunate aspect of this is that higher gas taxes most significantly impact those who can least afford it: hardworking, low-income and middle-class workers trying to balance their budgets and raise their families. Many workers who lost their jobs in the “great recession” have had to take new positions that involve longer commutes, and this too bears heavily on these least able to afford it.

The transparency tragedy continues, because the IDOT has now indicated that two bridges in Decatur and Appanoose Counties will be moved from the 2019 projects list to the 2015 list as the first to be repaired with gas-tax increase money. Neither is listed as dangerous! Neither is on a highly traveled road.

If a house-to-house siding salesman were using these kinds of “bait-and-switch” tactics, the County Attorney or the Iowa Attorney General’s office would be looking into bringing charges.

Even the ardent champion of the gas tax increase in the Iowa House, Representative Josh Byrnes, has had to say, “Whoops” – that he is “disappointed” to learn that the City of Clinton intends to use funds from the increased tax to hire three new workers whose principal duties in the city’s streets department would be mowing, snow removal, and “occasionally . . . work on road projects.”[4] Byrnes said, “I just figured that everybody was going to be so appreciative that we’re getting more money in for the infrastructure, that (they would say), Wow. We are not going to abuse this.[5]

Section Eight of Article VII of the Constitution of the State of Iowa says:

All motor vehicle registration fees and all licenses and excise taxes on motor vehicle fuel, except cost of administration, shall be used exclusively for the construction, maintenance, and supervision of the public highways exclusively within the state or for the payment of bonds issued or to be issued for the construction of such public highways and the payment of interest on such bonds.[6]

Byrnes went on to state:

That’s what the critics were saying. That’s what my anti-[gas tax increase] people were saying, is that this money isn’t going to get used wisely, and it’s going to get misused. In a way, [the Clinton council’s action] disrespects the work that we did here, I think. And it makes the people that were against [the gas tax increase] look like they were right.[7]

Had the proponents of the gas-tax increase listed these uses of the money generated, it is highly unlikely the bill would have passed the Iowa General Assembly. We need more transparency, not more lies, in the Iowa political process!

Endnotes:

[1] B.A. Morelli, “Highway 20 Project Tapped for Initial Iowa Gas Tax Funds,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 9, 2015, <http://thegazette.com/subject/news/highway-20-project-tapped-for-initial-iowa-gas-tax-funds-20150309> accessed on April 10, 2015.
[2] “ITR Poll: More than Three-to-One Opposition to 10 Cent Gas Tax Increase,” The Watchdog, January 14, 2015, <http://www.taxrelief.org/reports/0000/0219/January_14_2015_ITR_Watchdog_Gas_Tax_-_News_Release.pdf> accessed on April 10, 2015.
[3] Rod Boshart, “Gas Tax Increase Earns Narrow Committee Passage, Ready for Floor Debate,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, February 19, 2015, <http://thegazette.com/subject/news/republicans-change-committee-membership-to-accommodate-gas-tax-vote-20150219> accessed on April 10, 2015.
[4] Erin Murphy, “Clinton Proposal for Gas Tax Funds Draws Criticism,” Quad-City Times, April 14, 2015, <http://m.qctimes.com/news/local/government-and-politics/clinton-proposal-for-gas-tax-funds-draws-criticism/article_73ff42e8-a6c7-5ffb-a6af-c869879e397a.html?mobile_touch=true> accessed on April 14, 2015.
[5] Ibid. (Emphasis added.)
[6] Constitution of the State of Iowa, <http://www.limitedgovernment.org/publications/Iowa%20Constitution%202011.pdf> accessed on April 14, 2015. (Emphasis added.)
[7] Murphy, op. cit. (Emphasis added.)

Dr. Don Racheter is President of Public Interest Institute.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

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