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Imposing new tax? Cut back somewhere else

February 22, 2012
Gary Andersen, Lee Smith

Iowa lawmakers are struggling over what to do about proposals to raise the state's per-gallon fuel tax. Iowa has had a 21-cent per-gallon tax in place since 1989. Lawmakers are considering upping it to 29 or 31 cents per gallon. Doing so doesn't seem unreasonable to us. The money collected pays for roads, used by drivers, who pay the tax. So the tax is essentially a user fee, and that's always a preferable way for government to fund services.

The trouble? All the other services government tries to deliver or the rules it tries to impose. They drive up other forms of taxation, the benefits of which are harder for Iowans to see.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad had a good thought:?First identify about $50 million in savings in the state budget, then raise the gas tax.

What Iowans and lawmakers should remember is this: Every time someone in the Legislature proposes some brilliant new scheme, there is a price tag. Lawmakers like to sell these ideas with the notion that they will only cost each Iowan a few pennies or a few dollars, and, oh, isn't the new program just so important. But after hundreds or thousands of programs or regulations become law, the tax burden is the total of all the programs (and pennies), not just the one up for consideration this week.

We believe that Branstad's notion of reducing the size of government before raising the gas tax is more than sound. It should be the way governments operate in every instance.



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