State Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, shows a bumper sticker that was making the rounds at the State Capitol that’s a sign of the times, difficulty in funding prison staff and State Patrol.
State Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, shows a bumper sticker that was making the rounds at the State Capitol that’s a sign of the times, difficulty in funding prison staff and State Patrol.
March 31, 2014

A hybrid system for raising fuel taxes for Iowa's roads and bridges has gained interest in the Legislature, Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, said at a Carroll Chamber of Commerce legislative forum Saturday morning at Carroll High School.

The hybrid plan, which adjusts for inflation, differs from the proposal to raise fuel taxes by 10 cents a gallon over the next three years - 3 cents the first two years and four cents the final year.

The hybrid tax would reduce Iowa's gasoline tax to 16 cents a gallon and impose a new 5 percent wholesale tax on motor fuels, state lawmakers explained in a recent story in the Des Moines Register. The current taxes are 21 cents per gallon for regular gasoline and 19 cents for ethanol-blended fuel.

Estimates say the new plan would generate an additional $230 million yearly and have about the same impact as a 10-cents-per-gallon increase at the pump.

Segebart didn't dismiss chances for the hybrid plan's approval, calling it a "sleeper bill."

"It's got legs under it, a lot better than I thought," he observed. "There are a lot of people talking about this."

Segebart, a former Crawford County Board of Supervisors member, said the hybrid plan would bring quicker help to secondary-roads budgets.

"I'm for doing something," he said. "I think we probably should have done this years ago, but I was never in any position other than I could complain as a county supervisor. I'm doing what I can as a minority member of the Senate, and I have many friends on the majority side that would like to see something happen too."

Segebart said Democratic leaders in the Senate will want to see assurance of bipartisan support for any plan to increase the fuel tax before bringing it up for action.

"The scary part is that one party will blame the other if (support) is not bipartisan," he said.

"So it's alive. It's a live round," he said of the hybrid plan's chances.

Segebart said a number of Republican senators support raising taxes for roads.

"There are a lot of old county officials in our caucus who understand the problems we have with our roads out here in the country, so I think we can get there," he said.

At the forum, Carroll City Manager Gerald Clausen distributed a sheet titled "Iowa Transportation Facts," listing rankings nationwide, based on data from the the Iowa Department of Transportation and 2013 annual report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, Reason Foundation. Those rankings are: 48th in deficient bridges, 38th in rural-Interstate condition, 46th in rural-arterial condition and 37th in urban-Interstate condition. The information sheet said Iowa last increased motor-fuel tax 25 years ago and increasing user fee by 10 cents a gallon would equal $44 a year per vehicle based on 12,100 miles average driven per household vehicle.

"Each week, the added investment in your roadway system from a 10-cent increase in the gas tax would cost less than one can of your favorite soda, half the price of a cup of espresso ($1.65 for a large cup of Starbucks coffee) and a fraction of the cost of one movie ticket," according to the information.

Segebart led the forum, attended by about 30 people, on his own, as Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, was attending the funeral of a friend and fellow church member.

The forum also addressed school anti-bullying legislation and state education funding.

Segebart said anti-bullying legislation recently approved on party-lines in the Senate calls for $1 million in appropriation and "set up another layer of bureaucracy at the state level."

A new office at the state level would compile statistics from throughout the state, and that office would present information to the Legislature, Segebart said. He added that teachers and administrators would be required to address bullying off school grounds as well as in school.

According to The Associated Press, the bill would build upon current Iowa law by broadening the definition of bullying, requiring parental notification in some instances of bullying, granting school officials the authority to handle bullying incidents that occur off campus if they affect students on school grounds, and training school officials on the best practices and procedures to respond to bullying cases.

The bill seeks $1 million for anti-bullying efforts, of which $250,000 would go toward establishing an office within the Department of Education to coordinate and implement new policies to prevent bullying and harassment in schools. The remainder of the money would be used for a competitive grant program to help schools with carrying out the new rules.

The bill also doesn't require parental notification in all cases, leaving that decision to students and educators.

The law outlines a list of reasons a child might be bullied, such as religion or sexual orientation.

Gov. Terry Branstad has made bullying prevention a priority this year after a failed attempt during the 2013 session.

Explaining his concerns about the bill, Segebart noted that even such organizations as the Iowa Association of School Boards, Department of Public Health, Iowa State Police Association, School Administrators of Iowa, Area Education Agencies, United Way and Child and Family Policy Center have withheld their support.

"The bill passed is one most school boards and administrators don't support themselves," Segebart said.

The Senate bill was sent to the House, which is working on its own anti-bullying plan.

An audience member said schools are being asked to do more of what should be parents' responsibility.

"How can they teach reading, writing and arithmetic and at the same time do all these reports and try to take care of things not even happening on school grounds?" she said.

Segebart said, "Teachers have only so much ability to make corrections in the classrooms. Superintendent Cordes (Carroll Community School District Rob Cordes, who emceed the forum) could probably tell us more than we want to hear. But they're toothless when it comes to discipline."

Segebart talked about the difficulty of eliminating bullying, citing an example of his own grandchildren, with a 6-year-old already picking on a 1-year-old.

"It's part of human nature, and parents need to correct that," he said. "They're not getting that like they used to. You used to be able to go to the teacher. If the teachers had a problem, they sent a note home to the parents, and it was fixed by the parents. That whole system seems to have fallen through the cracks. So giving teachers more responsibilities that will actually not solve the problem is not the anwer. It's going to have to start at home and allow teachers to have a little more ability to straighten it out in the classroom."

Segebart said peer pressure used to be effective for correcting bullies but that seems to have disappeared.

And he noted the emergence of cyberbullying, "How would you ever have seen that coming? And now that's a huge problem."

Near the end of the forum Cordes needled Segebart on the need for the Legislature to provide schools with more dependable funding and spending authority.

Cordes said, "There are not only declining-enrollment schools but there are schools with increasing enrollment that are having to make budget cuts and significant budget cuts. Carroll Community is one of those, and they're all the way across the state of Iowa.

"This excuse of not wanting to set (funding) because we want to hold true to our promises doesn't hold water. If you look back at the history of across-the-board cuts, that's very evident, because even in the years we had across-the-board cuts, we still had the authority, and that budget authority is extremely important. Besides, it' the law."

Last year legislators approved an allowable growth model of 2-2-4 that would give an increase of 2 percent plus a one-time payment equal to 2 percent in 2014 and 4 percent growth for 2015. This session, the Democratic-led Senate has asked for a 6 percent increase, while the Republican-controlled House wants to stick with a multi-year funding formula.

Segebart said 6-percent growth is not sustainable, noting that the state's Revenue Estimating Conference recently projected 4.5-percent growth.

"There are a limited amount of dollars. We do not print dollars at the state level," Segebart said. "We have to have a balanced budget. If you go to 6 percent, someone else in that budget is going to have to be left short, and everybody out there is crying for money."

Segebart said that in the last 10 years, schools have been shorted six times on the approved education funding, so, he added, he doesn't want to see school districts make promises that can't kept.

"Just keep the authority, even on those years it was cut, they kept the authority to spend. The authority to spend is extremely important," Cordes countered.

Responding to an email question from the Times Herald about spending authority, Cordes responded, "Spending authority is the legal amount a school district can spend in the general fund based on the funding formula. One of the big numbers in the calculation of spending authority is regular program cost which is the number of students (certified enrollment x cost per pupil - set by the Legislature). There are several other parts to determining the spending authority for a district, but most of them are dependent on the cost per pupil.

"In years the state had across-the-board cuts districts received less money, but did not lose any spending authority. While it is not popular districts can recoup the money lost the next year by levying additional property tax through the cash reserve levy."