Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. March 1, 2015.
Need to repair infrustructure made fuel tax hike inevitable
News a gas tax increase of 10 cents per gallon begins affecting motorists today hit just as hard as Wednesday's snow storm.
In less than a three-hour span Tuesday, the Legislature passed a bipartisan transportation funding bill that is expected to generate more than $200 million each year to help address an annual shortfall in funding to make critical upgrades to roads and bridges in Iowa.
A day later, Gov. Terry Branstad signed the bill.
Of course, we've known discussion was heating up on a gas tax increase and — for reasons explained below — we have previously supported an increase in Iowa's gas tax. It's certainly not the passage of the bill that surprised us. For many who deal with the slow-turning wheels of government, the fact the increase starts being collected today is a bit of a stunner. Frankly, we're a little surprised state government can move to the implementation phase so quickly after the decision.
It must have something to do with collecting revenue that allows for such expediency.
For years state lawmakers have struggled with how, or in some cases whether, to generate more funds for road construction. This year it had become apparent there was a bipartisan effort.
"I believe that the leadership deserves credit for working together on a bipartisan basis to pass a piece of legislation that I think will be very beneficial to meeting the needs of the counties and cities as well as the state transportation network," Branstad said. "I think nobody's satisfied exactly, but that's the nature of a significant issue like this."
Branstad told reporters Wednesday the March 1 implementation date means additional tax collections will flow into the state road-use fund for four months of the current fiscal year. Expectations are the increase on every gallon of gasoline and diesel sold at Iowa pumps will generate between $18 million and $20 million per month and generate $204 million in 2016.
Most of the current transportation network was built or modernized between 1940 and 1970, "which means there is a wave of infrastructure needs to require significant reinvestment due to (the system's) life cycle," according to a 2011 Iowa Department of Transportation study.
Research by the American Society of Civil Engineers resulted in a 2013 report finding 21.2 percent of Iowa's bridges were structurally deficient and about 46 percent of Iowa's roads are in need of repairs. The federal government ranked the state 38th in the country in terms of road conditions.
There are so many potential arguments on how we got here that we'll just say we can't look away from the problem any longer.
Knowing we have to address these concerns or face perhaps tragic consequences, we've lent support to a gas tax increase because action is due and it seems the fairest way to pay up.
We realize tax increases of any kind are always going to be controversial. However, the huge advantage of a fuel tax increase is a significant percentage will be paid for by non-Iowans using Iowa's roads. In addition, those who use the transportation system the most would pay more than those who use it less.
And the statistics covering the conditions of our roads indicate the need is now.
The Des Moines Register. Feb. 28, 2015.
Take a guess who favors legalizing sale of fireworks
To understand the debate over an effort to legalize fireworks in Iowa, you need only look at the forces lobbying in favor of, and against, the measure.
Those in favor: Jake's Fireworks, a Kansas company; American Promotional Events, the parent company of an Alabama fireworks company; and so-called United States Fireworks Safety Commission, which is not, as the name implies, a government agency, but an Indiana-based trade group representing fireworks manufacturers.
Those opposed: Prevent Blindness Iowa; the Iowa Academy of Opthamology; the Iowa Nurses Association; the Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association; the Iowa Firefighters Association; the Iowa Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; and the Iowa Hospital Association.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist (no pun intended) to see why these various organizations and companies fall on opposite sides of the debate. Legalization would serve the interests of private companies that profit from the sale of fireworks, but would also pose a clear threat to the health and safety of Iowans.
State Sen. Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, has been pushing hard for the bill's passage. He says more people die golfing and exercising than using fireworks. He points out that "more than 200,000 children will be seen in hospital emergency rooms this year for injuries sustained while riding a bicycle, yet no one would think to suggest criminalizing that summertime activity."
Chapman's arguments are disingenuous — at best. Bicycles do not explode or emit a cascading shower of flaming chemicals when used as directed. Death and injury are not the predictable, foreseeable consequences of golf and exercise.
Iowa lawmakers have a decision to make: They can listen to a broad coalition of Iowa health care professionals and public safety experts, or they can listen to the out-of-state peddlers of fireworks.
It's their choice — but the people of Iowa will have to live with the consequences.
Fort Dodge Messenger. Feb. 28, 2015.
Do these negotiations have a chance?
No wonder Iran's rulers thought they could continue developing nuclear weapons without fearing U.S. action to stop them. Under President Barack Obama, they have gotten away with it for years.
A predictable pattern has emerged in the confrontation over Iran's push to develop nuclear weapons. It appears to be in play again.
First, U.S. officials express frustration over negotiations aimed at thwarting Tehran. Then, within days, they proclaim real progress has been made.
A new round of negotiations over Tehran's nuclear weapons program is in progress in Switzerland. Representatives from the United States, Iran, Britain, Russia, China, Germany and France are involved.
Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted there is a limit to U.S. patience. He told reporters there were "significant gaps" between U.S. and Iranian negotiators.
If differences are not resolved, the United States might pull out of the talks, Kerry suggested.
But by the next day, according to The Associated Press, "long-awaited progress" was being cited by some officials.
That very scenario has occurred several times. Each time, Iran gets what it wants — more time to work on nuclear weapons without serious action by the U.S. and others worried about nuclear proliferation.
Obviously, real progress in preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons would be wonderful news.
But is this more of the same old, same old — with U.S. officials scrambling for a face-saving way to conclude an agreement with Tehran, instead of admitting that the Iranians have played us for suckers?
That is a real concern.
The Hawk Eye. March 1, 2015.
Not their business: Government shouldn't be involved in telling a casino developer he can't prohibit smoking on the gambling floor.
Why are Iowa lawmakers even involved in whether someone placing a bet at a blackjack table has the right to fire up a Marlboro when he does it?
Last week, a subcommittee voted 21 to advance a bill that would force state regulators to grant a gambling license to an investor in Cedar Rapid who wants to establish a nonsmoking casino. Currently, smokers can light up on the gambling floor.
Someone who wants to invest as much as $164 million in building a business in Cedar Rapids apparently needs the state's blessing before he can tell patrons they must leave their smokes outside when they go to the slot machine.
A few years ago, when state lawmakers said secondhand smoke was bad for people who worked in public places, they outlawed it, despite strong lobbying from the bar and restaurant industry. But lawmakers did say it was all right to let people smoke on casino gambling floors in the state. They said secondhand smoke was a bad thing for people who worked in bars and restaurants and offices and all other public places, but not a danger for those people who work at the casinos dealing the cards to the smoking gamblers.
It was hypocritical then, and it's hypocritical now.
If someone wants to invest millions in whatever business — in this case a casino — and doesn't want people smoking inside the building, that should be up to the investor, not the government.
Long before the government got interested in where people smoke, the previous publisher of this newspaper banned smoking inside The Hawk Eye building. He didn't need a law to make that happen or a government mandate. He recognized the dangers and took appropriate action.
Other casinos want the government to keep out this new casino altogether. They said it would hurt their business. That's like saying government shouldn't allow a new Kohl's down the street from a Walmart because it would hurt Walmart. The marketplace will handle it.
Besides that, government is a terrible babysitter. It always has been.
If the investor wants a smoke-free facility, regardless of the kind of business, government shouldn't tell him he must let people smoke inside the building he built. It's not a matter of equal access. There's nothing good that comes from being exposed to smoke.
And it's his money being put at stake, not the public's.