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Local legislators voice reasons for no votes on gas tax

Heartsill tried to add three amendments

Published: Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 11:25 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 11:36 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Jason W. Brooks/Daily News)
Gary Dodds fills up at the BP gas station on First Avenue East in Newton during Wednesday’s snow storm. All four Jasper County state legislators voted against a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax that Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law Wednesday.

Wednesday, after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law the state’s first gasoline tax increase in 26 years, there weren’t any Jasper County legislators celebrating.

All four of the Iowa legislators whose territory includes Jasper County voted against the 10-cent gas tax passed by both houses in recent days.

The Senate voted 28-21 Tuesday to pass SF 257, sending the bill to Branstad’s desk. However, Sen. Chaz Allen and Sen. Amy Sinclair both were among the 21 ‘no’ votes.

Rep. Dan Kelley and Rep. Greg Heartsill both voted against the House version of the bill, HF 351.

The measure is intended to begin immediately generating revenue needed for Iowa’s network of bridges and roads, many of which are considered deteriorating or deficient, according to the Associated Press. Kelley told the Newton Daily News that not only will Jasper County roads not benefit much from the measure, but it’s also only a temporary solution.

“In Jasper County, we will pay an additional $3.7 million at the pump under the bill, but just $1.4 million would come back to our county to fix up our roads,” Kelley said. “We need a better solution to our infrastructure needs, that will help our farmers get their crops to market and ensure local manufacturers can get their products delivered.”

Heartsill made three amendments that would have phased in the gas tax in different ways. House Amendment 1014 would have shortened the sunset date of the tax from 2020 to 2016; 1015 would have restricted the use of the tax money collected, and 1017 which would have made tax-relief provisions. None of the amendments ended up in the bill Branstad signed.

“The impetus for passing these bills was for the legislature to be able to say it ‘got something done,’” Heartsill said. “This measure is, by nature, inflationary. It passes the cost along to consumers, and it was brokered by a handful of legislators, with a lot of members being shut out.”

Allen said he doesn’t think the issue showed a partisan divide.

“As far as I could see, there was little partisan posturing on this issue,” Allen said.

The first-year senator said he felt adding a tax while Jasper County residents are recovering from a recession is bad timing.

“This is no time for a 45.5 percent tax increase on working families,” Allen said. “The gas tax is one of the most regressive taxes that hits working families the hardest.

Branstad told the AP he praises the bipartisan consensus that passed the bill.

“I know it’s not easy and I know there are people who feel strongly on the other side, but there is a critical need for additional funding for our roads and bridges in the state of Iowa,” Branstad said. “This is important for economic development, it is important for our farmers to be able to get their crops to market. I know many people have been waiting for a long time for this.”

Sinclair said about two-thirds of the constituents who contacted her about the gas tax were opposed to it.

“Unfortunately, this bill will only act as a band-aid to the broader issue,” Sinclair said. “In addition, two of the counties within my district border the state of Missouri, which with the passage of this tax, will have a tax rate $.14 per gallon less than Iowa, posing a detriment to local businesses.”

Now that the legislature has asked its poorest workers to pay more for gasoline, will it also pass legislation to raise the minimum wage?

Kelley said he supports an increase, while Heartsill said it would hurt small-town anchor businesses and part-time employment numbers.

Sinclair isn’t sure the gas tax and minimum-wage legislation are tied together.

“I don’t believe it will actually have any impact on minimum wage legislation, one way or the other,” she said.

Kelley said the March 1 start date of the tax will hit some Iowans harder than others.

“This bill will create an unnecessary, dramatic burden on families struggling to make ends meet,” Kelley said. “I’m particularly worried about seniors on a fixed income.”

Contact Jason W. Brooks at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or jbrooks@newtondailynews.com

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