ARTICLE

Behind the scenes brainstorming for fuel tax alternative

Warning: Satire, parody and such.

Thanks to all of you for coming to this meeting. I know, as Gov. Terry Branstad’s top staffers, you’re very busy.

As you know, earlier this month, the governor said raising the gas tax to fix a big backlog of road and bridge projects isn’t going to happen. It seems like no matter how many times the governor coyly, but firmly, sort of  hints that he might be amenable to such an increase, maybe, someday, perhaps, lawmakers refuse to take his strong leadership cue.

Typical lack of political courage.

So the governor said using gambling dollars or sales taxes would be better. But that hasn’t gone over so well. Using gambling dollars means letting other state infrastructure go to pot. And sales taxes pay for all sorts of other stuff that we need, apparently, like public schools and whatnot. We’d tap the huge state surplus, but the governor wants to save that for a big election year income tax cut. Then it’s on to the coronation, I mean, election.

Just this week we got a report claiming that one-in-five Iowa bridges are structurally deficient, third-worst in the nation. Something has to be done, we’re pretty sure.

A few days ago, I asked each of you to come up with ways to fund road and bridge projects that don’t involve raising the fuel tax. I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas.

Ed, you go first.

“Thanks. I call my concept ‘Safer Highways Allow Fine Transit,’ or SHAFT.

“First, we lower the Interstate speed limit to 45 mph, while raising speeding fines. Then, we lower the blood alcohol level for drunk driving to zero, again, raising fines. Oh, and I’d add just a few speed cameras to state highways, maybe one camera per mile, to start.

"We simply cannot wait to give Iowans the SHAFT. Crime may not pay, but it certainly could pave.”

OK, Ed, I think we’ve got the gist. Sounds like a real political winner. Next, Jane?

“Instead of fines, I think paying for critical transportation needs should be fun.

“First, I’d create a new lottery game, ‘Pothole Powerball,’ where road and bridge projects are each assigned lucky numbers for a televised drawing. The winning project gets funded! How exciting would that be?

“Along the same lines, and following the governor’s lead, I’d create ‘Bridge-sinos,’ basically small gambling halls placed next to deficient bridges across the state. Proceeds from the bidge-sinos would be used to fix the bridge. We could have a catchy slogan, such as ‘Crossing Iowa bridges is a real gamble,’ or something like that.

“I’d also like to get Iowans involved. Under my plan, the Adopt-a-Highway program would become a lot more robust and intense. Instead of just picking up litter, groups and businesses would do patching, seal-coating, concrete overlays and other major repairs. It’s hard, hot work, but what a great corporate team-building exercise, am I right?

“And it’s never too early to get young Iowans involved. I’d create summer ‘Road Camps’ where kids could get real hands-on experience working on roads, with a free orange vest they’d get to keep! Plus a summer-full of memories, obviously.”

So, gambling and labor camps for kids. Swell, Jane. Frank?

“I think technology is key. Some have said we should use GPS technology to track vehicle mileage and charge a mileage tax. But that’s a political non-starter. Instead, I say we use GPS technology to steer Iowans away from bad roads and deficient bridges by loading that data into GPS units they already own. We’d include helpful phrases such as ‘Don’t worry, this is just the scenic rout,’ or ‘Calm down, what’s your hurry?’ or ‘That’s why they call it fashionably late.’

“I’d also experiment with new eyeglass technologies to implement a  ‘distraction tax.’ Special lenses would measure the time a driver’s eyes veer from the roadway, then we'd charge a per-nanosecond tax on that distraction.

“But, if all else fails, I’d just go with Ed’s idea and put speed cameras everywhere.”

Your experience at the NSA is really paying off, Frank. Any other ideas?

“Well, we could tax a broad spectrum of people who actually use the roads, at a rate that reflects the state’s needs, and put that money into a constitutionally protected fund designated for roadbuilding.”

Wow, that sounds great ...

“Oh, sorry, I’m reading from a description of the gas tax.”Oh. OK. So...if I left Des Moines now at 45 mph, how far could I get before the governor hears these ideas?

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