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March 2nd, 2015

Republicans Are Out of Touch With the Average Iowan


Doug Gross, the 2002 Republican nominee for Governor, made news this past weekend when he proudly proclaimed that there would be no political fallout for increasing the state’s gas tax. Gross made his prediction on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press.

“In 1989 I was Chief of Staff. That’s how long ago it was since we passed a gas tax in Iowa, and there has never been political repercussions associated with gas tax passes because people see it as a user fee,” Gross stated on Iowa Press. “The roads are bad. We need to fix it, and in this case we had the majority of both caucuses, both houses passed it and the Governor signed it right away.”

“There wasn’t one legislator — and I was there when Bob Ray did it in ’81, I was his lobbyist, and I was there with Terry Branstad as Chief of Staff in ’89 — there wasn’t one legislator that lost their job because of voting for the gas tax, and there won’t be this time either,” Gross added.

Even though Mr. Gross and I have completely different views on the gas tax issue, how it was handled, and the potential ramifications for the 2016 elections, I do understand the point that he made last Friday. At the end of the day, those legislators who voted for the tax increase will probably not be voted out of office for making that vote. That said, there are some obvious reason why that is the case.

First and foremost, only half of the members will be up for re-election in 2016. Republican Senators who surprised people by voting for the 45 percent tax increase, like Bill Dix, Bill Anderson, and Rick Bertrand, are not up for re-election until 2018. The main reason the bill moved after being talked about for years is because it came after Governor Branstad was re-elected. While twelve Republican Senators voted for the increase, only half of them will stand for re-election in 2016.

It’s a different story when you look at how the Democrats in the Senate voted. Of the 10 Senators who voted against the gas tax increase, seven of them are up for re-election in 2016, and at least five of them are in potential swing districts that could alter control of the chamber.

Gross believes that, since no legislator may lose their seat in 2016 because of this vote, there will not be any repercussions, but if Republicans once again fail to win control of the Iowa Senate, the gas tax vote may be one of the key reasons why. Below are a few reasons why I believe the gas tax increase could keep Republicans in the minority in the Iowa Senate.

Bait and Switch

The public was told that Iowa’s roads and bridges were deteriorating and that rural and farm to market roads and bridges needed to fixed or replaced. To drive this point home, the Iowa Good Roads Association ran television ads that depicting a school bus full of children plunging into a river because of a bridge failure. The scare tactic worked, and the public agreed that there was a critical need that needed to be addressed.

The only problem is that, while the legislators was eager to pump more tax dollars into the Road Use Tax Fund, they lacked the courage to address the underlying problem, which is that the formula used to distribute those dollars limits the amount of money that will actually go to the roads and bridges that need it the most.

In fact, on the day that Governor Branstad signed the gas tax increase into law, he brazenly suggested that the increased fund could “fast track” the completion of Highway 20 to be all four-lane.

On the same day, Stuart Anderson, the director of planning and programming for the Iowa DOT admitted that DOT officials had identified several projects that will be of high priority over the next five years. “This is primarily four lane development projects. It includes Highway 20 in western Iowa, US-30 in Benton and Tama counties, and completing the four lane corridor on Highway 61 in southeast Iowa,” said Anderson.

Iowans supported an increase of the gas tax because they were told there was a serious need to repair, replace, and maintain existing infrastructure. Not once in the past six years have those who advocated for a gas tax increase used four-lane expansion as a reason why an increase was needed.

The bait and switch is one of the main reasons why the tax increase could come back and haunt Republicans. It’s not going to be long before new reports will be issued that show the number of deficient bridges in Iowa didn’t go down despite the fact that over a billion extra dollars will be pumped through the Road Use Tax Fund in the next five years. Voters will begin to question how this can be since their legislative representatives told them that they fixed the problem.

Tax and Spend Republicans are Out of Touch

Another big issue for 2016 and beyond, is that Republicans are completely out of touch with regular Iowans. It’s somewhat amazing to me that, at a time when national Republicans are realizing that they must do more to communicate to blue-collar voters and the middle class, most Republicans in Iowa remain tone deaf.

Governor Branstad went out of his way in his re-election campaign to avoid talking about an increase in the gas tax. In fact, even when the Des Moines Register reported that increasing the gas tax was one of his main priorities in the upcoming legislative session, Branstad’s staff took issue with the paper’s reporting of an interview he granted them, and he even reached out to to help set the record straight. Unfortunately, the Register was correct in suggesting that a gas tax increase was the Governor’s main priority. How else could one explain his eagerness to sign it into law.

What Branstad and most Republicans did campaign on was the passage of “the largest tax cut in Iowa’s history.” The tax cut Branstad and Republicans point to is a property tax overhaul that will cut property taxes by an estimated $5 billion over the next decade. The bill made meaningful cuts in regard to how commercial property was taxed, but individuals are still paying higher and higher property taxes each and every year.

Before taping Iowa Press, I looked up the property taxes that everyone around the table had paid in the last four years under Governor Branstad. Each person at the table has paid more in property tax each year. So the “largest tax cut in Iowa’s history” isn’t making the amount of taxes people are paying each year go down.

The problem that Republicans will face is that it’s corporations that are benefiting from Governor Branstad and the Republican majority in the Iowa House, not individuals. In addition to cutting property taxes for corporations, the Branstad administration has doled out hundreds of millions in tax credits and other incentives to either lure out-of-state business to locate in Iowa or to help existing Iowa companies expand.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for bringing jobs to Iowa, but some of these corporate handouts go too far. The worst examples have to be the State of Iowa awarding tax credits to companies that are relocating their headquarters from one Iowa city to another. Merchants Bonding scored over a million dollars in state and local tax credits to move their headquarters from Des Moines to West Des Moines. Iowa-based Kum & Go received over $9 million in state aid to move out of it’s West Des Moines office for a new office building in downtown Des Moines.

The Kum & Go project is especially troubling since the company hired an Italian architecture firm to design the project. Kum & Go is building a new headquarters near the Sculpture Park in Downtown Des Moines because it’s eccentric CEO, Kyle Krause, views it as a legacy project. It’s one thing for the state to help a company who needs an assist to expand, but the $9 million dollars that Iowa taxpayers are contributing to the project are not necessary. Is it really a good use of tax dollars to help a company afford an Italian designer?

Legislators were adamant that money from the general fund could not be diverted to the road use tax fund. That is a horrible decision by Republican lawmakers, especially since the state budget has grown by a whopping $1.3 billion over the past four years. Governor Branstad and the Republican controlled House of Representatives have essentially spent the extra $1.3 billion on the corporate property tax cuts and increased educational spending.

Apparently the increased educational spending didn’t do much since Republicans proposed to increase educational spending by another $100 million this year, a 1.25 percent increase. Democrats want a four percent increase. What seems to go missed by legislative leaders is that the $1.3 billion budget increase in the past four years comes from the taxpayer. That means that under the Branstad Administration and Republican leadership in the Iowa House, Iowa taxpayers have paid an extra $1.3 billion in taxes in the past four years, and now they just went back and demanded a billion dollars more for road construction project. And let’s not forget about the billion dollars in debt that taxpayers are required to pay as a result of Governor Culver’s I-Jobs infrastructure project.

Doug may not think so, but at some point, taxpayers will say that enough is enough. What’s more troubling is that, as the farm economy softens and the state budget grows, we are one economic hiccup away form another budget mess. If we follow the logic of most legislators and Governor Branstad, the taxpayer will once again be expected to bail the state out.

What will the 2016 Campaign Be About?

As I look ahead to the 2016 campaign, I have to wonder what issues Republicans plan to run on. Thanks to a weak opponent, Branstad’s re-election campaign didn’t have to be about an agenda for the next four years. Legalizing marijuana, fireworks, and raising taxes by a billion dollars over the next five years isn’t a message that will relate to average Iowans. Handing out millions of dollars to corporations won’t do much either, expect play into the hands of Democrats. That’s why those Democrats who opted not to raise the gas tax made a wise vote.

People like Doug Gross believe there will be no repercussions for Republicans passing a gas tax increase, but I look at the past four plus years that Governor Branstad has been in office and Republicans have controlled the Iowa House, and I wonder what good it did for me? People need a reason to vote Republican, and it’s sad, but I can’t really think of one off the top of my head.

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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