taxes

We Drive Too Much

In Des Moines, one gallon of gasoline now hovers around $3.50, almost $.50 less than a few months ago. Oil companies continue to rake in record profits based on the fear that supply is unstable and growing short (which it is, but that is another discussion).

Toyota Prius: File source: James Benjamin Bleeker via Wikimedia CommonsToyota Prius: File source: James Benjamin Bleeker, Web Master of http://www.AutoOnInfo.net and http://CarsOnInfo.net [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia CommonsOne of the effects of relatively high gasoline prices is that people have perhaps started driving less. For many of us, when we start paying something closer to the true cost of driving each mile, driving less begins to look more appealing.

Of course, the problem with the high price of gas is that the extra money we spend at the gas pump goes straight to the pockets of the oil producers. very little of the fabulous sums of money generated by skyrocketing prices go towards actually dealing with the externalities of pollution, road maintenance, and traffic safety which are generated and/or exacerbated by driving.

Drivers tend to believe that the only prices associated with driving are cars, insurance, and gasoline. Why? because those are the costs that are most immediate.

Solutions we should work towards:

  • reduce the subsidies for new infrastructure and increase spending on maintenance of existing infrastructure.
  • Increase investment in mass transit.
  • Incentivize connected and compact development/redevelopment
  • Tighten emission standards
  • Tighten CAFE (fuel efficiency) standards
  • Increase the taxes on gasoline
  • Support engineering innovation for alternate fuel sources
  • Explore taxing gasoline per dollar rather than per gallon

It is my hope that we can reduce dependence on oil as a driver (so to speak) of our economic and social systems before it becomes an emergency - and it is pretty clear that it will.

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The Des Moines City Council is deciding whether or not to continue offering tax abatement to new construction and renovation in targeted areas of the City.

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Ballot boxWhat if you held an election and nobody showed up? Well, yesterday my vote counted more than it usually does. You see, there happened to be an election, and I was one of just 5,077 Des Moines Independent School District voters who voted on a property tax ballot question. This small group of voters decided whether to continue collecting a $.63 per $1000 property tax for school facilities improvement.

Let's say the average house in the Des Moines Independent Community School District is assessed at $100,000. I just spent $63 of your money! That's a fabulous dinner for two at Cafe di Scala, two oil changes, or 60 cups of coffee at Mars Cafe (with Foursquare check-in). Dear people who didn't show up to cast your vote: Thanks for letting me decide!

In all fairness, I can't place the blame solely on the voter. Publicity for this election was woefully, well, nonexistent. I must acknowledge my friend Kelli Griffis, who sent out a Twitter message alerting us that the election was underway. Had I not received that notification, I too would have missed my chance to cast a ballot.

Here was the question put before us:

Shall the Board of Directors of the Des Moines Independent Community
School District, in the Counties of Polk and Warren, State of Iowa, for the
purpose of repairing, remodeling, reconstructing, improving, or expanding
the schoolhouses or buildings and additions to existing schoolhouses;
expenditures for energy conservation; purchasing and improving grounds;
rental of facilities under Chapter 28E; purchasing buildings; procuring or
acquisition of libraries; or purchasing equipment authorized by law, be
authorized to continue, for a period of ten (10) years, to levy annually, as
determined by the Board, a voter-approved physical plant and equipment
property tax not to exceed Sixty-Three Cents (.63) per One Thousand Dollars
($1,000) of the assessed valuation of the taxable property within the School
District, commencing with the levy for collection in the fiscal year ending
June 30, 2012?

What the heck does all that mean? Well, it basically asks whether we should continue the way things are for the next 10 years, or get rid of the $.63 per $1000 property tax that is paying for school infrastructure improvements.

Whatever the question, turnout was embarrassingly low.

How might turnout be improved?

  1. Social Media - The Polk County Auditor should have a Twitter account for updates. I would appreciate them capturing email addresses for critical announcements as well. Both of these could serve double duty for communicating with residents during disasters. Polk County Health Department has a Twitter account that I have found very useful (@polkcohealth).
  2. Traditional Media - Whenever a decision meets the threshold for a public vote, it becomes important enough for the media to cover... it's their money, too! I didn't see any media coverage of the election (except, perhaps for some post election returns).
  3. Better Ballots - The graphic design of our ballots and the wording are both horrific! Not only are they visually confusing, but the text is difficult to decipher. I'm sure that any of our local creative talent could design a better ballot...
  4. Election Days - Holding an entire election in order to decide this particular question alone was costly and unnecessary. Election laws should be changed to encourage timing school board elections to align with other elections.

Here's hoping that more people care enough to vote in future elections.

If you didn't vote, why not? Feel free to respond in the comments.

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