Sunday, January 15, 2012

Foot on the Gas

Like most offers, this credit card that gives 5 cents per galllon back comes with strings attached.

  Iowa Republicans won control of the Governor’s mansion and House on a platform of lower taxes and less government along with the obligatory nod to social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Since the Iowa Democrats still controlled the Senate, core Democrat issues have been protected from even coming to a vote in the Senate. A bill to allow a vote to change the Iowa constitution to ban gay marriage has been blocked by the Democrats as well as a bill to block late-term abortions. A bill to make changes to the state’s collective bargaining law passed the Iowa House but was not able to come up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

  I don’t have a problem with the Democrats blocking legislation they don’t like. After all, that’s their job. And I don’t have an issue with the Republicans vilifying the Democrats for blocking legislation. After all, that’s their job. But when these guys all start working together, it probably doesn’t mean anything good for me. This week, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have predicted that the Legislature will pass an increase in the gas tax. The proposed tax increase will get $50 million in savings from the Department of Transportation this year and then raise $264 million dollars over the next 2 years (and $176 million a year thereafter) by raising the taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline by 4 cents a year over the next 2 years. This money is to be used to fund the increase in road construction costs. Even Governor Branstad, who said he would not approve an increase in the gas tax earlier this year has come to an about face on the issue by suggesting that he would be open to a future increase.

   As someone who drives 30 thousand miles a year to go to work, I understand the need to have well maintained roads as much as anyone, but raising the money to maintain the roads by taxing gasoline makes no sense to me. Governments never consider funding school improvements by taxing families with children because they consider education to be in the public interest. Aren’t well maintained roads in the public interest? Well maintained roads benefit the entire state, not just motorists. When people travel to Des Moines, Ames, Iowa City, etc. for sporting events, concerts, and shopping the benefits are felt by all the businesses, restaurants, and stores in the area but they don’t pay a dime for the roads these customers use to get to them.

  I don’t mind paying my fair share but this tax is an undue burden on me. Why should all the people who have electric cars get a free pass from paying for maintaining the roads? And what about all the pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, etc… ? Aren’t they using the roads? A car that gets 25 miles a gallon will pay 1/3 of a cent per mile under this tax. Let’s start taxing shoes, skateboards, and bicycle tires for using our roads at that same rate.

  Aside from the prejudicial nature of the gas tax, how is it that the Republican who proclaim themselves to be against taxes are open to this particular tax increase? Because the increase won’t take effect until next year (after this year’s election). They are gambling that the people who voted them in power because of their low-tax stances won’t remember that it was these same Republicans that raised the gas tax over a year ago. I imagine the $50 million dollars in savings requested from the Department of Transportation will come in the nature of a low interest loan on the future gas tax revenues. I’m even suspicious of the timing of the announcement of the prediction. If this tax increase had come out a few weeks ago during the caucus, I’m sure the candidates would have noted their disapproval for new taxes, but now that the national attention is off the state, it is business as usual for the local politicians. I’d much rather see the Republicans follow through on their tax promises than their vows to put an end to gay marriage in the state. I’m no fan of gay marriage, but it has been almost 2 years since the courts imposed it and I haven’t noticed any great increase in the moral depravity of the state or seen any fire and brimstone raining down from the skies.

  Speaking of gasoline, when I went to the Jiffy yesterday to fill up all ticked off at the prospect of having to pay more for gas when the new taxes hit, there was a new sign on the pump letting me know that I could get 5 cents off a gallon by merely using my Phillips 66 credit card (which I’d have to apply for). I wasn’t interested in getting 5 cents off each gallon since my discover card gives me 5% cashback on gas (which works out to at least 15 cents a gallon), but since there was so much fine print I had to investigate the offer more closely. The first thing I noticed was that you had to buy 45 gallons a month to get 5 cents back on any gallon and that the offer was only good for the first 110 gallons bought any month, so the total savings in any month would be limited to $5.50. Not exactly Brewster’s Millions. I’m sure every little bit helps, but anyone who buys 45 gallons of gas a month should be getting a better deal.

  I’ve been stepping on the gas at the last 3 Marshalltown Thursday night blitz chess tournaments, winning 5 games with a loss and a draw. I’d dropped 30 points from my recent all time high rating with losses to Dave the Barefoot Chess Player and 2 losses to Joe from Waterloo in early December and was playing poorly while losing, but 2 weeks ago I got lucky and won a game off last year’s blitz champion in a comedy of errors. That piece of luck seemed to turn around my fortunes. Even though in the very next game I lost to my son Matt (who was home from college on winter break), I played a good tough game before losing a pawn to a trick set by the better player. Last week, I won my first 2 games (including a rare pasting of Jerry, last week’s tournament winner) and got to square off against Joe Meyer from Waterloo in the final round. I had White, played the Boris (1.d4, 2.f4) and we had a wild position with both sides attacking on opposite sides of the board. I managed to win a Rook for a Knight and Pawn and got to this position:
  Right here Joe offered me a draw and I immediately accepted. Why? I had 80 seconds compared to Joe’s 3 minutes and 2 moves before Joe had completely surprised me by forking my Queen and Rook with his Knight. Luckily I had an escape to keep both my pieces, but my confidence was a lot lower than it was before he surprised me. Once we agreed to the draw, Joe and Jaleb started showing me how I could have traded Queens with Qb3+ and won the game. I didn’t dispute their analysis, but was still satisfied with the result of the game. It looked like an easy win when they were going over it, but when I played it against the computer, I not only didn’t win, I was losing a lot. Maybe I could have outplayed Joe in the endgame with 80 seconds on my clock, but in this case I’m glad I took my foot off the gas.