My wife and I were driving down Interstate Highway 80 on Sunday, and we experienced one of the cardinal rules of law-making. You don’t read about this in the textbooks. But it’s as certain as death and taxes.
The rule amounts to this: When politicians give us something, it’s not long before we want more of the same.
On Sunday, we were humming along at 70 miles per hour. Even at that speed, more cars and trucks were passing us than we were passing.
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He is a former editorial page editor and assistant managing editor of The Des Moines Register.
Visit the Iowa Freedom of Information Council website at: http://ifoic.org/
I’m old enough to remember when the nation grudgingly went to “double nickels” — a national 55 mph speed limit to conserve fuel in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo.
A decade later, Congress allowed a 65 mph limit on rural sections of limited-access roads like Interstate 80. By the mid-1990s, the national speed limit was gone, and it once again was left to the individual states to set the limit on their roads.
The result was obvious Sunday. While the speed limit is 70 mph, many drivers had their own higher speed limit.
Of course, that was the case 40 years ago, too, during the double-nickel years. But the driver who disregarded 55 back then probably didn’t dare to travel more than 60 or 65 for fear of the consequences if a state trooper happened along.
It’s the same today, although drivers’ personal speed limits have moved incrementally higher.
State Sen. Brad Zaun of Urbandale pushed this year for the Iowa Legislature to increase the limit on rural interstate highways to 75 mph. If his bill becomes law, you can be certain the motorist who now travels 75 to 80 mph will be going 80 to 85 under the higher speed limit.
This rule of the speed limit applies to our dealings with government in other areas of life. As restrictions are lessened, there is a push for even fewer restrictions.
You see this in a variety of areas, including guns, government aid to businesses and fireworks.
As Congress and state legislatures make it easier for people to buy and carry guns, lawmakers’ efforts have not satisfied shooters any more than raising the speed limit from 55 to 65 satisfied drivers.
Now, gun proponents don’t want restrictions on the purchase of silencers. Some want to do away with background checks. Others don’t want minimum-age requirements.
Iowa enacted tough limits on individuals’ use of fireworks in 1938, following disastrous fires in 1931 and 1936. The fires started from careless use of fireworks and leveled large sections of Spencer and Remsen.
Eighty businesses were destroyed in Spencer. Thirty-eight businesses and 15 homes were lost in Remsen.
After the 1938 law, Iowans had to limit their fireworks enjoyment to their own use of sparklers and “snakes” and to shows put on by professionals. Yes, there were people who ignored the law, just like the speed limit, and went to other states to buy illicit fireworks.
OK, I confess that a half century ago, the Evans boys and our dad drove to Lancaster, Mo., every year and bought small firecrackers called “lady fingers,” a few pop-bottle rockets, a box or two of sparklers and a Roman candle or two.
We waited impatiently for the Fourth of July to arrive. By dusk on the Fourth, the family’s holiday celebration was over for the year.
When the fireworks ban was lifted by the Legislature this spring, you would think that allowing Iowans to eliminate the across-the-border trips and buy their supplies locally would provide satisfaction.
That wasn’t the case. The speed limit phenomenon was present.
Instead of bombs bursting in air and rockets’ red glare confined to a few hours on a few days surrounding the Fourth, this year’s extravaganza began well before July 4 and lasted for days. On the night of the Fourth in Des Moines, the smoke was so thick and hung in the air like fog for so long that an air quality alert was issued.
But don’t be surprised if proponents of fireworks are back at the Legislature next spring, pushing for a longer fireworks “season” and for fewer restrictions on when and where fireworks can be sold and used.
We’ve seen the speed limit phenomenon with economic development assistance, too.
Forty years ago, when Iowa government was getting involved in economic development, the assistance typically consisted of building roads or extending utilities to sites for new factories.
That was adequate until the demand for more began. Now the state and local governments provide no-interest loans, forgive property taxes, refund sales taxes and give grants to woo businesses.
Compressor Controls Corp. is spending $434,000 to remodel its headquarters offices in Urbandale. The taxpayers of Iowa, whose state government is struggling to balance the books, gave the company a grant for $32,500.
Voya Financial Inc., a Fortune 500 company, is moving its offices three blocks in downtown Des Moines. This $11 billion business is receiving $553,000 in tax credits and sales tax refunds from the state, and Des Moines is providing discounted parking worth about $625,000.
More, more, more — just like the speeds of drivers on Interstate 80.
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Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.