by Stephanie Fawkes-Lee
When my children were young, we took road trips around Iowa. Gas was cheap—about 89.9 cents a gallon, so it was an inexpensive way for a single mother on a fixed income to give her children mini vacations. We went to see the Omaha’s Henry Doorley Zoo and stopped in Elk Horn on the way back to see the Danish Windmill that had been brought over piece by piece from Denmark and reassembled in this small town where someone had a vision. One of the best restaurants was in Elk Horn, but has sadly closed down. The Loess Hills was another great trip, where we hiked around and witnessed a documentary being filmed. Desoto Bend was a fun and educational spot where we took pictures of the migrating birds. Yes, there are some wonderful road trips in Iowa.
The teen years hit and my children were so relieved when Marty entered my life, a kindred soul who also loves a great road trip. He showed me the Plow in the Oak in Exira and tried to show me the Little Mermaid in Kimballton, but it wasn’t on display at the time. After exploring countless antique stores in Walnut, we bought an old coat rack for $17 that is still standing in the corner of our home buried under coats and hats.
But the Great Recession hit with skyrocketing gas prices and these trips sadly came to an end. Whereas it used to break a twenty dollar bill to fill the tank, now it is triple the amount. And on top of this cost there is an additional ten cents per gallon tax because, well, Iowa hadn’t raised the gas tax in a really long time.
It wasn’t just the blow to a poor person’s budget that causes moments of extreme nauseam, the gas tax was passed in an atmosphere of dishonor. The maneuvering that took place to pass this bill should be viewed as a blight on the 2015 Iowa Legislative Session. You see, there wasn’t support in the House Ways and Means Committee for the tax increase, so members were temporarily replaced with legislators who supported the tax (including the Speaker of the House) just long enough to vote it out of committee and then it went speeding along to Governor Branstad to sign into law before anyone knew what hit.
The Des Moines Register was a strong supporter for the tax and so the reporting was slanted:
WHAT HAPPENED: Lawmakers approved a 10-cent increase per gallon in the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, the first hike since 1989.
IMPACT FOR IOWANS: For a person who drives 15,000 miles per year in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon, the proposed tax increase will cost $60 annually. The bill will generate about $200 million annually for road construction and repair projects. It took effect March 1.
WIN FOR: Branstad, Republicans, Democrats, road contractors, farmers, labor unions. Both parties can claim this as a win. The bill was backed by farm groups who complained of crumbling roads and bridges and building contractor lobbyists and labor unions who will benefit from the work.
LOSS FOR: Conservative opponents of tax increases and anti-tax lobby groups such as Iowans for Tax Relief.
WATCH FOR: Potential fallout for House Speaker Paulsen, who helped secure the bill’s passage in committee by maneuvering to oust two Republican members and inserting himself. Some House conservatives remain livid over the tax increase and his management of the issue.
QUOTE: “The timing is good because gas prices have dropped significantly. That makes it a little more palatable to the public,” Branstad said in making his case in November for an increase in road construction funding.
The above article listed the winners and losers for the tax. The winners’ list was long and the only perceived losers were organizations against tax increases. There certainly are more losers, and when readers aren’t given a balanced report, the education is stunted.
But there were others that opposed the increase. We did, knowing that it was just one more hit to the struggling poor in Iowa. But we were told a number of times that “the new tax will only be an average $60 a year increase” and that people driving through Iowa will be paying more of the tax.
Also, it is not just that sixty dollars is a large amount for those with limited incomes, but poor people can’t afford the economic cars with great gas mileage, they are many times stuck with the old gas guzzling beaters that burn just as much oil as gas, so the increase will be considerably more. Yes, the poor took a major hit with the tax increase, yet their needs are a faceless and voiceless lot at the Iowa Capitol.
A recent press release was issued by the Governor’s office encouraging Iowans to make road trips this summer. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is taking a summer Iowa road trip with her family and she wants others to follow her lead. So is tourism being harmed by the tax increase? Or are they trying to encourage more tax revenue for Iowa by encouraging these road trips? Either way, it’s not in our budget.
We’re left wondering if the cost of gas will significantly decrease in our lifetime or if we’ll wind up two old codgers rocking away on our back deck remembering the good old days of cheap gas and road trips.