Mr. Spiker uses as his basis for opposition multiple references to polls showing “overwhelming” opposition to a gas tax increase. That’s nice, but what does that have to do with solving the funding shortfall for roads and bridges? As for a poll on taxes, when is the last time you heard of any poll where those being questioned said they wanted higher taxes (unless of course the poor were polled about the rich paying their “fair share”)? I’ve long used polling data as support for my positions, and probably would if the polling data skewed to my side on this issue. But, in the end, what polling data results often show is a polling base of people misinformed, or not at all informed, on the issue. For example, we see polling data overwhelmingly in support of increased gun control, in spite of the fact that the measures being proposed will do nothing to reduce gun violence. We’ve also been presented with polling data in the past showing strong support for Obamacare. More recently, we’ve seen strong support in Iowa for expanding Medicaid. Will the Iowa GOP come out in support of increased gun control, Obamacare and expansion of Medicaid to follow the polling results, or will they recognize that those polled are making emotional decisions and that they aren’t very well informed on the implications if their opinions are implemented as law? I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the polling results will have no affect on their positions. So why should a poll on the proposed gas tax increase have anything to do with justifying their position? The gas tax is a case in point on uniformed voters. In order to address this, how about a poll that states clearly that funding for Iowa roads and bridges is deficient by $215 million dollars? Then give them the three options that are currently on the table and ask them:
What is your preferred option for solving the current $215 million funding shortfall for roads and bridges in Iowa?
1. Use general fund surpluses for a one year, temporary fix. (you might want to mention that the legislature could actually give taxpayers a refund of $369 out of the current budget surplus instead)
2. Ignore the problem and do nothing. (Might want to mention that this “kicking the can down the road” approach will eventually cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more in future maintenance costs)
3. Raise the gas tax by $.10 over the next three years. (That’s an increase of $60-90 per vehicle per year by year three, depending upon whose figures you use)
I’ve repeatedly told people that raising the gas tax is the worst option of the three, except for the other two options. Truth be told, raising the gas tax sucks, but doing nothing, or nipping at the edges of the problem with general fund surpluses are far, far worse options because they’re not long term fixes. If the Iowa GOP supports the other two options, then they’re no better than the U.S. Senate Democrats and President Obama in kicking the can down the road to be solved by future legislatures. Do we really need to wait for a bridge to collapse with a bus full of kids on it to get the “Sandy Hook” affect on the need to solve a problem?
I recently attended “It’s Time for a Dime”, a grassroots movement made up of supporters of the gas tax that held their event at the Capitol on February 27th to educate our legislators on the need for the increase. In my conversations with legislators, the consistent theme I got from them, and others I heard speak on the topic, is that there is absolutely a funding problem. What isn’t yet established is where the GOP will land on solving that problem. One legislator was very blunt in his assessment that, as a member of the GOP, he’s afraid of the backlash if he votes for a gas tax increase. And he’s right, because the media reported that Chairman Spiker sent a letter to House Transportation Committee Chair, Josh Byrnes, demanding that Rep. Byrnes withdraw his support for a gas tax increase. As Rep. Byrnes astutely pointed out, it’s his responsibility to work for his constituents, who include many supporters of the gas tax increase.
In a press conference yesterday held by the “It’s Time for a Dime” event coordinators, Governor Branstad spoke and stated he would support an increase in the gas tax if he finally gets his property tax reform bill passed. While I feel there’s plenty of merit for the gas tax increase without property tax reform, Governor Branstad has been pushing for property tax reform for the third consecutive legislative session and knows he can get additional support for reform from groups who are supporting the gas tax increase by tying the two together. And I did get some feedback yesterday that offering property tax reductions could provide sufficient cover for the GOP legislators to justify support of the gas tax increase.
Mr. Spiker further defends his opposition to the gas tax by stating that AAA is stating gas prices are at an all time high and that the Iowa GOP platform clearly states its opposition to increasing gas taxes. As for gas prices, would Mr. Spiker support an increase in the gas tax if gas prices were say, $1 dollar less than all time highs? Probably not. I don’t think Mr. Spiker would support the gas tax whether Iowa was running a budget deficit or if gas was $2/gallon. With their current, not tax increases regardless of merit in doing so, the Iowa GOP risks being define as being the party that opposes taxes, while surrendering their mantle as the party of solutions to very challenging problems.
So, Chairman Spiker, as the leader of Iowa GOP, I challenge you to take a firm stand and either come up with a viable, long term solution to the funding shortfall that Iowa GOP can stand behind, or publicly state that there is no problem and justify that position. Until then, you’ll have demonstrated the same absence of leadership that we’ve seen in the White House since January, 2009.
**Editorial Disclaimer** this is Scott Bailey’s opinion and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Caffeinated Thoughts, its editor and other contributors.
Photo Credit: Derek Jensen (PD-US)