Sunday, September 04, 2005

Vilsack's former transportation guy on gas

We’re not the only ones a little confused by all the mixed messages coming out of the Vilsack administration on what to do abut the price of gas in Iowa. The Sioux City Journal posted to their online addition this editorial asking some good questions about Mark Wandro’s speech to the Sioux City Rotary last Monday, the day after Katrina.

Parting comments

This year's state award for poor timing goes to soon-to-be-former Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Wandro.

The last thing anyone should be talking about or that anyone wants to hear about right now is increasing the state gas tax. While everyone else is focused on how to bring down the price of gas, talking about possibly taking up the price is like driving the wrong way on the interstate.

But there was Wandro, raising that specter and speaking in favor of it in an appearance before the Downtown Rotary Club in Sioux City on Monday.

Inadvisable as that was, Wandro's comments took on an even more quizzical air the following day when he announced he was leaving his DOT post and entering the private sector as a consultant with an Ankeny firm. He didn't mention that when he was here.

In his speech to local Rotarians, Wandro said state revenues are not keeping pace with highway project needs and a backlog of projects is growing. So the Legislature has ordered the DOT to study its funding streams and report back with recommendations by the end of 2006.

A proposal to hike the state's taxes on regular gas, ethanol-blended gas and diesel fuel could be made to the Legislature as early as 2007, Wandro said, and he added that he personally favors raising them as opposed to hiking either of the state's other sources of money for building roads. He said, "We're going to make a case that we need it, but recognize the timing couldn't be worse."

Indeed. Crude oil and domestic gas prices had climbed to record highs before Hurricane Katrina. To be discussing a gas tax increase - however necessary it might be or however far off that might occur - in the present environment strikes us as, well, not prudent.

In light of the fact we now know he's leaving DOT, we're not sure whether we even need to get shook up over what Wandro said in Sioux City. It's easy to say whatever you want when you're not going to be around at the time the formal proposals and actual decisions are made. If Wandro isn't going to be at DOT next month, let alone in 2006 and 2007, should anyone put stock in his gas tax comments? Is that plan cast in stone? Might a new director want to take an entirely different approach?

Confused? So are we.

Perhaps it would have been better for Wandro simply to have canceled his local speech.

We should probably give Mark Wandro a break, the guy’s from Iowa, probably never lived in a hurricane prone region, let alone experienced one first hand. So, talking about raising gas taxes the day after a category 4/5 hurricane hits a major oil & gas producing region is reasonable for someone without a clue. It is unfortunate, for him, that his lack of understanding made it easy to talk up gas tax increases and, subsequently, end his government career.

What we’re still curious about is the rather bloodless disappearance of Wandro by Tuesday afternoon. Guess we could say – if you cost P.W. Vilsack even the potential for bad press, it’ll mean your Vilsack administration career is dead. How’s that for loyalty?

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