Beall, Shaw differ on gas tax

The lack of money for roads and the excess of it in political campaigns was discussed during an Eggs and Issues legislative forum Saturday morning in Fort Dodge.

State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, and state Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, disagreed on the need to raise Iowa’s gas tax to pay for road and bridge work.

Beall has long supported a gas tax increase.

“I see it as a user’s fee,” he told about 50 people attending the forum.

Shaw said he opposes raising the levy without giving people a tax break to offset the increase.

“I do not support just an outright raise in the gas tax,” he said.

The lawmakers agreed that full disclosure of contributions is the best way to deal with the flood of campaign cash.

Both said they supported a plan to exempt military pensions from the Iowa income tax.

The two also said they’re in favor of tougher sentencing laws to prevent future tragedies like last year’s abduction and murder of Kathlynn Shepard, 15, of Dayton.

“We don’t want these animals back out on the street,” Shaw said.

Beall and Shaw were the only lawmakers who participated in the forum held at the Iowa Central Community College East Campus. Eggs and Issues is sponsored by the college and the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.

Gasoline tax

Iowa’s gas tax is 21 cents per gallon and has remain unchanged since 1989. That money goes into the state’s Road Use Tax Fund, which, according to the state’s constitution, can only be used to pay for road and bridge work.

Costs have increased since 1989, creating a shortfall of millions of dollars between the amount of money available and the amount needed to keep the infrastructure in good repair.

Webster County Engineer Randy Will told the lawmakers Saturday that the leaders of the Iowa State Association of Counties passed a resolution calling for a gas tax increase. He asked Beall and Shaw if they would support such an increase.

“Yes, I’m with you,” Beall said.

Shaw said he’s frustrated by a lack of opportunities to present an alternative to a gas tax increase. He added that he wants to offset an increase in the gas tax with a decrease in the personal income tax.

The lawmakers said they were uncertain if a gas tax increase will advance during this year’s legislative session.

Both men criticized the state Department of Transportation for spending $100,000 to redesign its logo.

“I thought that was the dumbest thing,” Beall said.

Shaw said the money spent on the new design could have paid for replacing two bridges on rural roads.

Campaign cash

Campaign contributions became a topic of discussion when Judge Brown, of Fort Dodge, asked the legislators if they were concerned about the amount of donations Gov. Terry Branstad’s re-election effort is receiving from people and groups in other states.

Shaw said it would be naive to think that only Republicans get donations from out-of-state.

“You’re never going to keep the money out of politics,” he added. “No matter how many laws you put in place, the money is going to find its way. If a politician is corrupt or crooked and is accepting corrupt and crooked money, he’s going to find a way to receive it no matter what laws you have in place.”

He said the solution is the “fullest disclosure that we can have.”

Beall agreed that full disclosure of donations is needed.

“The money in politics is obscene,” he said.

According to Beall, state senators are paid $25,000 a year, but three recent Senate races cost more than $1 million each.

He said the U.S. Supreme Court decision in litigation commonly called the Citizens United case cleared the way for corporations to donate to campaigns.

“I think the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, my friend,” Beall said.

Other issues

Branstad proposed exempting military retirement pay from state income tax as part of his Home Base Iowa initiative to bolster the work force by attracting veterans to the state. The proposal is to be debated by the Senate Monday afternoon.

“These men and women are trained, they have vision and they have leadership skills,” Beall said of veterans.

Shaw, a Navy veteran who said he’s receiving military retirement pay, said some of his former shipmates looked for states that don’t tax such pensions when they retired.

While both legislators expressed confidence that the military retirement tax break and new 25-year prison sentences for those convicted of kidnapping a child will eventually be approved by the Legislature, they said they weren’t sure what might happen to any plan to increase the minimum wage. Beall said Senate Democrats will push to increase that wage, which is now $7.25 per hour.

The senator also saluted Shaw, who will not seek re-election to a third term, for his service in the House.

“As many of you know, Tom and I don’t always agree on the issues,” Beall said. “But Tom, I want to say this: I’ve enjoyed working with you. I know you’ve been true to your beliefs. We’ve worked together in the Legislature for our constituents. Sincerely and truthfully, I want to thank you for your service.”