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Iowa House

Say Cheese

by: Susan Staed

Sat Apr 25, 2015 at 10:24:03 AM CDT

(I've never heard of this Iowa House rule before. Supposedly clerks for other House Democrats have also been hassled recently after posting photos on social media.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

When I was a child, I hated getting my picture taken. An infamous family photo taken at an older sister's wedding is of the entire family grouped together, grinning for the professional photographer - except 10-yr-old me. I have a scowl on my face big enough to scare away the Dalai Lama. Not sure how old I was before I quit hiding when mom or dad yelled, "Family picture time!", but eventually I overcame the low self-esteem and painful shyness that dominated adolescence.

40 years later, it's more than a little ironic that one of my duties as Art's clerk is to photograph his legislative day. After winning re-election, Art decided to document the process involved in how our laws are made. This means a gazillion pictures of meetings with constituents one-on-one, pictures of group meetings, pics of sub-committees, full committees, and ultimately pictures of House debate.

Last week, after taking pictures of various representatives during floor debate on education, I returned to my seat next to Art's. The Chief Clerk came out of the Well (rather unusual during floor action, but House Leadership told her not to wait), up to my desk and told me not to take pictures of individual reps unless I had their permission - per House Rules.

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Schools paying the price for Iowa legislative dysfunction

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 14:00:00 PM CDT

Nearly a week after the deadline for school districts to certify their budgets for the coming year, Iowa lawmakers are still not close to a deal on K-12 education funding. Some 300 teachers have been laid off in anticipation of no increase or only a minimal increase in state aid.

Statehouse Republicans who are resisting the obvious compromise on school funding claim Iowa doesn't have the money Democrats want to spend on K-12 schools, let alone the amount educators asked for. Reality: money could be found for an adequate increase in state aid to schools if not for an expensive commercial property tax cut lawmakers approved two years ago, adding some $277 million in fiscal year 2016 alone to other costly tax breaks for Iowa business interests.  

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Iowa Wiccan priestess displays amazing power

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 10, 2015 at 16:07:33 PM CDT

to make other people act like idiots.

I didn't think anything could top some people's freak-out over atheist ads on Des Moines buses, but the reaction to yesterday's Wiccan invocation in the Iowa House is a contender.

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Shorter Terry Branstad: It's good to be the king

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 07, 2015 at 20:26:59 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad made a remarkable claim at his latest press conference: because "the people of Iowa elected me to reduce the size and cost of government," he has the authority to "make tough decisions" on closing state-run mental health facilities and reorganizing Medicaid services for more than half a million Iowans.

To justify his position, Branstad channeled President Harry Truman: "The buck stops with me." But his view of governance reminds me more of Mel Brooks in the movie "History of the World, Part 1": "It's good to be the king."

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Weekend open thread: Iowa marriage equality anniversary edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 05, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

Happy Passover or Happy Easter to all who are celebrating this weekend. In past years Bleeding Heartland has posted links about those religious holidays. For today's open thread, I'm reflecting on the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling, announced on April 3, 2009.

Lambda Legal, which represented the Varnum plaintiffs, published a timeline of the case. The LGBT advocacy group filed the lawsuit in December 2005, banking on the Iowa Supreme Court's "extraordinary history" of independence and "civil rights leadership."

If Iowa lawmakers had approved a state constitutional amendment on marriage, the Varnum case might never have been filed (in anticipation of Iowans approving a ban on same-sex marriage, as voters had done in many other states). But during the 2004 legislative session, the marriage amendment failed by one vote in the upper chamber, thanks to the united Senate Democratic caucus, joined by GOP senators Maggie Tinsman, Don Redfern, Mary Lundby, and Doug Shull. All four Republican moderates had left the legislature by the time the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Varnum. Redfern retired in 2004. Tinsman lost her 2006 primary to a social conservative challenger. Shull retired from the Senate in 2006 and unsuccessfully sought a seat in the state House that year. Lundby retired from the legislature in 2008 and passed away the following year.  

Reading through the early Democratic and Republican reaction to the Varnum decision should make all Iowa Democrats proud. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and former House Speaker Pat Murphy deserve credit for their leadership at a time when some Democrats would have run for cover on an issue perceived to be unpopular. Minority civil rights should never be conditional on majority approval.

As for the Republicans in the Bleeding Heartland community, you can be proud that your party's state legislators seem less and less interested in fighting the losing battle to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

Three of the seven justices who concurred in Varnum v Brien (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit) lost their jobs in Iowa's 2010 retention elections. Justice David Wiggins survived a campaign against his retention in 2012. The remaining three justices who concurred in the decision are up for retention in 2016: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of the ruling), Justice Daryl Hecht, and Justice Brent Appel. It's not yet clear whether Bob Vander Plaats and his fellow-travellers will make a serious effort to remove them, or whether they will give up in the face of Iowans' growing acceptance of marriage equality.

The LGBT advocacy group One Iowa holds an annual gala around the anniversary of the Varnum ruling. Last night the group honored Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum and Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu, among others. I enclose below a statement from the group marking six years since gay and lesbian couples won the freedom to marry in Iowa.

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New Iowa law aims to ease cities' concerns about sledding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 15:05:00 PM CDT

Iowa received some some unflattering national media coverage this year after the Dubuque City Council banned sledding at most city parks, out of what many considered excessive fears about litigation.

A law Governor Terry Branstad signed yesterday should bring joy to thousands of Iowa sledders next winter.  

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Quit stalling and make a deal on Iowa school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 09:00:00 AM CDT

Iowa legislative leaders like to boast about how well they work together, in contrast to the "gridlock" seen in Washington when different parties controlled the upper and lower chambers of Congress.

Yet Iowa lawmakers can be remarkably slow to move toward obvious solutions to some disagreements. Less than two weeks before school districts need to adopt budgets covering the 2015/2016 academic year, Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats are nowhere close to a deal on K-12 school funding. What is their problem?  

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Study shows distractions cause 6 in 10 crashes involving teen drivers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 01, 2015 at 12:40:00 PM CDT

After analyzing video data from roughly 1,700 crashes, University of Iowa researchers determined that "distracted driving contributes to nearly 60 percent of car crashes involving teen drivers" between the ages of 16 and 19. That's a far higher figure than previous studies have indicated. The findings are significant because although teenagers drive less than most other age groups, "their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high."

The full report, "Using Naturalistic Driving Data to Assess the Prevalence of Environmental Factors and Driver Behaviors in Teen Driver Crashes," is available here (pdf). Some highlights are here and after the jump, along with more details about the methodology.

Interacting with passengers in the car and talking or texting on a cell phone were among the most common distractions preceding teen driver crashes. Proposed legislation to ban most cell phone use while driving did not make it through the Iowa legislature's "funnel" this year, so it's up to parents to help address the problem by voluntarily not texting or carrying on phone conversations while they drive.

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August 23 to be set as earliest start date for most Iowa schools

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 31, 2015 at 16:16:11 PM CDT

A bill prohibiting school districts from starting the academic year before August 23 is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad, who has indicated that he can accept the compromise. UPDATE: The governor signed the bill on April 10.

The school start date issue has taken up a lot of oxygen at the statehouse this legislative session, despite a lack of evidence that the timing of the academic year affects Iowa's tourism sector in any meaningful way. Follow me after the jump for details on Senate File 227's journey through the legislature, including how Iowa House and Senate members voted on different versions of the bill.

The governor's determination to use state power to supersede decisions reached independently by more than 300 school boards and superintendents is yet another example of the Branstad administration's disregard for local control in many policy areas. For my money, that's one of the most under-reported Iowa politics stories of the last five years.

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School Start Dates Have Nothing to Do With Tourism

by: daveswen

Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 10:15:00 AM CDT

(Not the first time and won't be the last that Iowa lawmakers get bogged down in a dispute based on a false premise. Click here to read the full text of the school start date bill and here for the bill history, which shows how it changed from the Iowa Senate version to what passed the House. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Dave Swenson 
 
We have a debate in the Iowa Assembly on constraining early school starts.  It arose after the Iowa Department of Education indicated it would no longer routinely approve school starts prior to the week containing the 1st day of September.  Governor Branstad weighed in as well indicating that early start dates negatively affected attendance at the State Fair and threatened tourism.   School districts squawked, and the legislature weighed-in. The current Iowa House bill wants no starts prior to the 23rd of August, which is around the time when the State Fair typically ends.  The Iowa Senate would allow districts to set school dates based on their localized preferences. Reconcilliation is in order.
 
Without citing any evidence at all, school start dates and tourism were pitted to be at odds with each other.  But it is a phony argument: there is no evidence that early start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa.   
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Heather Matson challenging Kevin Koester in Iowa House district 38

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 24, 2015 at 22:26:47 PM CDT

Heather Matson announced today that she will run for Iowa House district 38 in 2016. To my knowledge, she is the first Democratic challenger to declare against an Iowa House incumbent.

The district should be competitive, and Matson and four-term State Representative Kevin Koester each bring strengths to the campaign. After the jump I've enclosed a district map, recent election results and voter registration data, and background on both candidates.

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Weekend open thread: Ross Paustian "Sex After Sixty" edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 21, 2015 at 15:03:44 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The most important Iowa political story of the week was state Republican leaders hounding consultant Liz Mair out of a job with Scott Walker's PAC. Colin Campbell compiled Mair's tweets about the episode for Business Insider, and they are well worth reading. I'm still annoyed by the collective Republican temper tantrum and the Des Moines Register's pandering.

A different Iowa political event drew even more attention, though, including a segment on ABC's Good Morning America show. The fateful photo of Republican State Representative Ross Paustian might have been a footnote to a long Iowa House debate on a collective bargaining bill. But because the lawmaker was apparently reading a book called Sex After Sixty, the photo went viral and could easily become what Paustian is most remembered for when his political career is over. I enclose below background, Paustian's explanation and a few thoughts on the sometimes cruel nature of politics.

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Iowa House approves new restrictions on counting absentee ballots

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

Seeking to address a problem that has grown along with absentee voting, Iowa House Republicans approved a bill yesterday to set new restrictions on which mailed ballots may be counted. Backers said the change would provide more consistency to the system. But the change may not reduce the number of ballots tossed out every election year.
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Same-sex marriage ban dies without a whimper in Iowa House

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 10, 2015 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

Following up on this post from last month, the latest version of a state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman in Iowa is dead for this legislative session. House Joint Resolution 4 didn't make it so far as a subcommittee hearing, let alone passage by a full committee before the "funnel" deadline late last week.

Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore never assigned the bill to any subcommittee. When I asked him about the status of the bill on February 24 (a month after the bill was introduced), Baltimore's response was telling.

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Two ways 40,000 Iowans could lose their health insurance

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 04, 2015 at 14:40:13 PM CST

At least 40,000 Iowans are in danger of losing their health insurance later this year, and not only because of the King v Burwell case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of how justices decide that case, Iowans could lose access to federal subsidies they need to buy insurance policies.

State legislators and Governor Terry Branstad could eliminate the risk by working together to establish a fully state-run health insurance exchange this year. But for reasons I can't comprehend, I see no sense of urgency to prevent a potentially devastating outcome for thousands of families.  

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Gas tax fallout: Eric Durbin challenging Clel Baudler in Iowa House district 20

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 27, 2015 at 16:49:42 PM CST

Many Iowa GOP activists are upset that dozens of House and Senate Republicans voted to increase the gasoline tax this week. WHO drive-time radio host Simon Conway has been bashing some legislators who voted for the gas tax hike. He's also urging listeners to "ditch the GOP" by changing their party registration.

Such symbolic acts mean little to compared to what Eric Durbin did yesterday. Appearing on Conway's Thursday afternoon broadcast, he announced that he will challenge nine-term incumbent GOP State Representative Clel Baudler in Iowa House district 20. Durbin narrowly lost the GOP primary in House district 26 last year, but he recently moved his family from Indianola to a farm in Baudler's district. His campaign is on Facebook here; at this writing, the website still lists House district 26, which covers most of Warren County. I assume that will be changed soon. Durbin's core issues hit many of the top priorities for conservatives.

House district 20 covers Guthrie and Adair counties, plus parts of Dallas and Cass counties. A detailed map is after the jump. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office, House district 20 contains 4,629 active registered Democrats, 6,471 Republicans, and 7,490 no-party voters. Although Mitt Romney just barely carried this district in the 2012 presidential election, Baudler was re-elected by more than a 2,000 vote margin that year and last November. For those reasons, Baudler is probably at more risk from a primary challenger than from a Democrat in the next general election.

Among the longest-serving Iowa House Republicans, Baudler was first been elected in 1998. He has chaired the House Public Safety Committee since 2011. Although he's a longtime member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors, Baudler drew the ire of some Iowa gun rights activists by not advancing a gun bill during the 2012 legislative session. Nevertheless, he didn't face a primary challenger either that year or in 2014. The Iowa Gun Owners group will likely get behind Durbin's primary challenge. I wonder whether anti-tax groups like Iowans for Tax Relief and Americans for Prosperity will do much to punish the incumbents who went against them on the gas tax issue.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Iowa Senate approves bills on wage theft, minimum wage increase

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 26, 2015 at 13:12:54 PM CST

While the gasoline tax increase grabbed most of the attention, the Iowa Senate approved two other significant bills on Tuesday. Senate File 270 would combat Iowa's wage theft problem, estimated to cost workers about $600 million annually. After the jump I've enclosed State Senator Bill Dotzler's opening remarks on the bill, which cover its key provisions. Victims of wage theft testified at an Iowa Senate hearing in late January, and when you hear their stories, it's hard to understand why this remains a partisan issue.

It makes sense when you read the lobbyist declarations on the bill, showing various labor groups in favor and business groups opposed (including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Iowa Retail Federation, the Iowa Grocery Association, and the Iowa Propane Gas Association). During the Senate Labor and Business Committee's hearing on wage theft, GOP Senator Rick Bertrand had criticized the idea of forcing more "paperwork" on all Iowa businesses because a minority are stealing wages from workers. Democrats later incorporated some amendments suggested by Bertrand. Nevertheless, the final vote on Senate File 270 was strictly partisan, with 26 Democrats in favor and 23 Republicans against. Senators approved a similar bill last year, also along party lines. It died in the Iowa House.

Senate File 269, which would raise Iowa's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.00 this year and to $8.75 next year, cleared the Iowa Senate on February 24 as well. This time Bertrand joined the 26 Democrats in voting for the bill; the other 22 Republicans who were present opposed it. For the last couple of years, many Democrats nationally and in Iowa have endorsed a minimum wage of $10.10.  I assume Senate File 269 set a lower goal in the hope of attracting bipartisan support, but I would have stuck with $10.10. Not only is that closer to a living wage, it's closer to the purchasing power of Iowa's minimum wage the last time it was raised in early 2007.

Incidentally, only three of the current Iowa Senate Republicans were in the legislature when Iowa last raised the minimum wage in 2007. Of those, David Johnson voted for raising the minimum wage to $7.25, while Brad Zaun and Jerry Behn voted against it.

Republican statehouse leaders have no interest in raising the minimum wage now, but when a minimum wage increase came to a vote in 2007, it passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both chambers. At that time, supporters included nine current Iowa House Republicans: Kraig Paulsen (now Iowa House Speaker), Linda Upmeyer (now Iowa House Majority Leader), Clel Baudler, Dave Deyoe, Cecil Dolecheck, Jack Drake, Dan Huseman, Linda Miller and Dawn Pettengill (she was a House Democrat at that time but switched to the Republican Party later in 2007). Seven of the current Iowa House Republicans voted against raising the minimum wage to $7.25 in 2007: Greg Forristall, Pat Grassley, Tom Sands, Chuck Soderberg, Ralph Watts, Matt Windschitl, and Gary Worthan.  

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Branstad signs gas tax hike, immediately calls for expediting new lane construction

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 13:00:00 PM CST

This morning Governor Terry Branstad signed Senate File 257, which raises the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon and includes several other provisions related to transportation funding, permit fees, and fuel taxes. The Iowa House and Senate just approved the bill yesterday, with substantial bipartisan support and opposition in both chambers.

Gas tax revenues go into Iowa's Road Use Tax Fund, which distributes money among state, county and local governments according to a set formula. Because Iowa lawmakers did not incorporate any  "fix it first" language in Senate File 257, I remain concerned that the bulk of the new money will be spent on new road construction or building new lanes on existing roads, rather than on fixing the crumbling infrastructure that was cited to justify this tax increase. Branstad already signaled as much this morning:

Branstad said having the tax hike go into effect March 1 means the state will collect more fuel taxes than expected in the last four months of the state fiscal year - and the starting date for some road and bridge projects may be moved up.

"Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up," Branstad said, "and this is a way that hopefully that and other key projects can get priority and be expedited."

The project to expand all 300 miles of the Highway 20 route from Dubuque and Sioux City into a divided four-lane highway began 50 years ago. Branstad told reporters this morning that he's recently talked with the Iowa DOT's director about speeding up the Highway 20 project.

Current Road Use Tax Fund revenues fall an estimated $215 million short of what Iowa needs annually to maintain existing infrastructure. According to the fiscal note produced by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 257 will bring in a little more than $200 million in additional funds each year for the next several years. Money spent on new roads or new lanes on roads like Highway 20 won't help us catch up with ongoing maintenance needs. How many structurally deficient bridges won't be fixed because four-laning Highway 20 was expedited? The same dynamic could play out in many counties and local governments too, because new roads or road expansions are often seen as better economic development than fixing a road or bridge that's in bad shape.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 24, 2015 at 16:48:31 PM CST

A bill that would raise Iowa's gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad's desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.

A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.

Only two state legislators missed today's votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn't serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today's votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: "I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote." Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.

Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor's recent comments on road funding. Branstad's spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.  

After the jump I've enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman's opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.

Final note: several of the "no" votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).

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Iowa legislative state of play on raising the gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 19, 2015 at 18:01:47 PM CST

Iowa House and Senate members have taken several steps toward raising the state gasoline tax for the first time since 1989. Follow me after the jump for details on where the legislation stands and the latest signals from the governor.

One big political question was answered today, as House Speaker Kraig Paulsen not only endorsed the gas tax bill but personally intervened to make sure it would clear the House Ways and Means Committee. His support may bring some reluctant House Republicans on board. Conservative advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Iowans for Tax Relief are pushing hard against any gas tax increase. Governor Terry Branstad or Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix appear ready to back this bill but may need to spend more political capital to get it passed.

Two important policy questions remain unanswered. First, what will be done to lessen the blow on low-income Iowans, who would be disproportionately affected by any increase in a regressive tax? Iowa's tax system is already stacked against people with lower incomes.

Second, will the gas tax hike turn out to be a giant bait and switch? From business groups to road builders to heavyweights in the agricultural sector, advocates of a tax increase cite the poor condition of many Iowa roads and bridges. However, to my knowledge the pending legislation would not guarantee that any new Road Use Tax Fund revenues from gasoline taxes or vehicle fees be spent on repairing torn-up roads or structurally deficient bridges. Unless "fix it first" language or a change to the funding formula is added to the bill, the lion's share of additional revenues from a gas tax hike could go toward building new roads or new lanes on existing roads, such as U.S. Highway 20 in northwest Iowa or any number of local "economic development" projects. If crumbling roads and bridges are used to justify a gas tax hike, lawmakers should stipulate that most of the new money raised would go toward existing infrastructure rather than new roads and lanes, which only increase future maintenance costs.  

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 2007 words in story)
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