Elected officials answer public’s questions
The Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce held its third Legislative Forum of the year Saturday at the Fairfield Public Library.
The forum featured four local legislators: Rep. Curt Hanson (D-Fairfield), Rep. Dave Heaton (R-Mt. Pleasant), Sen. Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant) and Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa). Each gave opening remarks and then took questions from the public. Chelgren missed the first half of the forum, and said he was tending to an illness.
Heaton said in his opening remarks that he had “never seen anything like this year,” referring to the large number of controversial bills to come through the House on issues such as gun rights, workers’ compensation and election integrity.
“The legislation we’ve worked on cuts through communities. It divides people,” he said.
Heaton mentioned that the House passed a bill requiring insurance companies to cover treatments for autism, a bill he was proud to support.
Hanson said he was happy about a few recent events but sad about others. He was happy to see such a large crowd at an event Thursday in Fairfield where a Holocaust survivor spoke.
On the other hand, he was sad to learn that Indian Hills Community College is closing its outreach center in Keosauqua.
He said community colleges offer the best bang-for-the-buck of any program in the state.
Taylor said he was disappointed in the work the Legislature has done this year, saying “We’ve done a lot of mean bills.”
“The Legislature has started attacking women’s health care, especially poor women’s,” he said. “Next week, we’re going to attack workers’ compensation.”
Legislators are contemplating a bill that would raise sales taxes three-eighths of a cent to pay for water quality projects and outdoor recreation. Taylor said the tax is necessary in order for the state to “do anything about water quality.”
Furthermore, Taylor said the state needs to be aggressive in eliminating corporate welfare.
“Never yet has a business told me they needed a tax cut to stay in business,” he said.
During the question and answer session, a member of the audience asked about the legislators views on education.
Hanson said the state has been “drying up education spending.” He mentioned that Iowa has done a bad job of retaining teachers. He said that when women began breaking through the “glass ceiling” decades ago, they left teaching for other jobs, and the state didn’t do enough to make teaching an attractive occupation for them.
Heaton said he felt it was unfair to portray the state as being inattentive to the needs of educators.
“You got 70 percent of the new money we had,” he said. “If people don’t spend money, the state doesn’t get revenue.”
John Morrissey, a Fairfield attorney, asked the panel about their views on the lack of funding for courts.
Taylor said he was on the judiciary budget committee for four years. He said he didn’t like how the Legislature gave the courts orders about the services they’d have to provide, without also providing the funding to do them.
Hanson said cases have not been prosecuted in a timely manner because there is no money to process the evidence.
Heaton felt the same way, saying “I hated the way we went after the Department of Corrections and the Clerk of Courts.” He said the state is losing a lot of money through its inability to tax internet purchases, particularly on amazon.com.
Chelgren said he agreed courts should be a top funding priority, but noted that other legislators thought differently.
“I asked people what they thought government’s responsibilities are. Courts were No. 3,” he said. “But we’re constantly told by our colleagues that education should be our top priority.”
Chelgren said legislators might say courts are their top priority, but always find other programs more important. For instance, he said the Legislature decided to keep its word and not take any money away from education, Medicaid and local governments.
“Courts are the only thing left to cut,” he said.
Diane Rosenberg asked the legislators how they were going to clean up the state’s water without cleaning up runoff from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). She asked if they supported a moratorium on CAFO construction.
Chelgren said the question was essentially whether the state should shift tax liability to corporate farms.
“We already do that,” he said.
Chelgren said the state takes “11 times more from the ag industry than we put into it.” He also mentioned that shifting money into a fund like water quality “creates a hole in someone else’s budget.”
“We continually budget more than we get in revenue,” he said. “We don’t have a budget problem, but rather a spending addiction.”
Taylor said he has been on the ag committee for five years, and one thing he’d learned in that time was that most states, and foreign countries like Canada, don’t allow farmers to spread manure on the same water table on back-to-back years. He said that is one thing the Legislature could do differently.
Hanson said he favored more local control over CAFOs. Heaton, on the other hand, said he preferred a consistent set of laws across the state for CAFO siting.
He added that he thinks anyone who stores liquid manure, of any quantity, should have to comply with manure management practices, unlike now where only large ones must.