If you want to see my blood boil, just send me some a news story or show me a clip from Iowa Press of a Republican in the state legislature agreeing to raise the gas tax if their Democrat counterparts decide to act on the issue. While I agree that one of the purposes of state government is to invest public infrastructure, state government also must realize that raising taxes or fees during the current economic crisis is risky, especially when you realize that the state raised motor vehicle fees just last year to help pay for our infrastructure needs.
I love to hear how some legislators think an eight to ten cent increase per gallon is really no big deal. Some suggest that it would only cost Iowa’s another $50 bucks a year give or take. I think that number is low, and I choose to resist the government incrementally taking more of my money. Maybe our elected officials should look at what the DNR just did; they took fee increases off of the table for the time being because of the economy. The same should be done with the gas tax.
The most frustrating thing in regard to this issue is the lack of discipline on the Republican side. State Representative Dave Tjepkes, the top Republican on the House Transportation committee is for the increase, as is House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen. Paulsen is employed by a large trucking firm in Cedar Rapids, CRST who want to see the increase in the gas tax. Trucking companies prefer paying gas taxes for road improvements over vehicle registration fees because it’s easier for them to pass on the cost of fuel to their customers.
Another group that is surprisingly silent on the issue is Iowans for Tax Relief. One would think that a large organization like them would at least weigh in on the issues. Their silence on the gas tax may have something to do with Scott Newhard, the VP of Public Affairs for the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, and Scott Weiser, a long time lobbyist for the trucking industry, both serve on ITR’s board of directors.
Let me paint a quick picture why this issue is a loser for Republicans.
First, when the Democrats insist that any increase in the gas tax has to be a bipartisan effort, be weary. If increasing the gas tax was such good public policy the Democrats who have majorities in both chambers and occupy the governor’s office would simply whisk the legislation through.
Maybe our leaders in the House should call up Jamie Van Fossen and Dan Rassmussen and ask them if the hint of their willingness to increase the gas tax affected their failed reelection attempts. The senate should do the same with Mark Zieman, maybe they could go talk to him about it at an Iowa Motor Truck board meeting just down the street. Zieman is their chairman.
In the 2008 elections the Democrats showed us that they could beat incumbents who supported higher gas taxes, yet many of our Republican legislators seem willing to march straight into the trap. They need to wake up. Iowa Democrats are not interested in passing good public policy for our state, they are simply just interested in getting reelected and keeping their majorities. Republicans supporting the gas tax will just help them achieve this goal.
What we have on the Democrat side is the classic good cop vs. bad cop. The bad cops are guys like Gronstal, Murphy, and McCarthy whom all represent solid Democrat districts. They are going to be very public in their support of increasing the gas tax and will pass the legislation in both chambers. This is music to the ears for trucking companies, road builders, unions, and other contractors meaning the money will flow into their campaign coffers. The good cop, Chet Culver who has already publicly said he opposes the gas tax increase due to the economy. Culver, the populist, will veto the bill and run for reelection using the line, “When Republicans and some in my own party wanted to raise gas taxes during this economic crisis, I said no!” Meanwhile the bad cops will be out there running anti-gas candidates against our Republican incumbents who supported it.
Trust me, if Republicans help pass the gas tax we will continue to lose seats in both chambers, and Chet Culver will be reelected. This is just another case where Republicans are failing to win the debate on the fiscal issues.