Branstad should lead on road funding

If the governor thinks roads need more funding, he should lead the caravan

Todd Dorman
Published: October 31 2013 | 9:46 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 10:41 pm in
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Maybe the Cedar Rapids LOST vote is a tough call for you.

Too bad you’re not the governor.

Being governor means not having to take a rock solid position on paying for road repairs. You can spend a couple of legislative session tossing around hints as to your views on a gas tax increase. While lawmakers, including some Republicans, strain to do the heavy lifting on that issue, you can pledge to definitely consider backing it, and maybe signing it. Probably.

This week, the governor received a series of new road-funding options from the Department of Transportation, options he asked the department to compile. There’s some controversial stuff in there, to be sure, including a repeal of the tax break farmers receive on fuel for their equipment and an increase in the tax on new cars.

Immediately, the governor said he’s not endorsing any of it. No way. True, it’s an initial reaction, but past performance indicates his neutrality may be permanent. He hopes lawmakers can come together to find a “consensus.” And he would seriously consider that consensus. As far as they know.

When I was a kid, I read columnist Donald Kaul describe Branstad as “the Audie Murphy of weather vane politics.” I remember that because I had to ask my dad who the heck Audie Murphy was. Now, youngsters, your turn.

What he meant was Branstad loves to lead a charge where public opinion is already headed, or at least where the constituencies he cares about most are telling him to go. The trouble with the road funding issue is the weather vane is spinning and pointing in different directions. And most of those directions involve an unhappy somebody paying more.

It’s the sort of issue that’s crying out for leadership from the top. Sure, an election year is looming, but this is Teflon Terry, the textbook definition of electoral invincibility. Surely he’s not frightened of every poll that goes bump in the night.

It would be great if, by January, the governor either puts together the Branstad roads plan or tells Iowans, clearly, that he’s not interested in any fee or tax increases right now. Lead in either direction, but lead.

If he thinks the state’s roads truly need attention and more funding, he should head up the caravan, not sit in the back seat.

Othwerwise, I don’t blame lawmakers for being skittish about risking their own necks while the governor keeps his hands clean. They’ve reached bipartisan accord before on stuff such as boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit and providing $13 million for mental health needs, only to see vetoes turn consensus into shredder confetti.

Take a stand, governor. Cedar Rapids voters must make a choice on how to fix streets, so can you.

 

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