The Capitol Report by Rep. Curt Hanson
Week 9 (March 11-15) in Iowa Legislative session.
I was pleased to meet with some old friends in Keosauqua on Saturday. After a much too short weekend, with only a short break to enjoy the “big band” music of the Artie Shaw Orchestra, I headed back to Des Moines in the rain. I arrived just as the rain turned to snow. Driving in a snowstorm is never pleasant, and I did not wish to drive at night during a snowstorm.
On Monday morning, a group of legislators visited a Des Moines Montessori school. The teaching methods used in a Montessori school are much different when compared to the traditional schools most of us experienced. The children were highly engaged in their learning and most were working in groups. The Montessori concept of grouping grades together with the same teacher for several years reminded me somewhat of the old country schools. When you are all in the same room, you may learn from children older and relearn from those younger. In my opinion, part of this school’s success story are the motivated parents who strive to enroll their children in this school. The principal spoke of a parent who asked that their 18-month-old child be placed on the school waiting list in the hope of being admitted at age 4 to the pre-kindergarten class.
Monday afternoon we debated a number of largely noncontroversial bills such as reaffirming that eminent domain cannot be used for economic development purposes. I supported this bill. In other action, a bill that passed that I did not support was about insurance agents – to me, the idea that your insurance agent may claim to be a specialist, consultant, or counselor thereby receiving additional money, is a concept the public has not had time to study and give us their input.
Tuesday morning I shared a letter, from Superintendent Lisa Beames of the Van Buren Community School District, with our rural caucus. She expressed her concerns about the differences rural districts are able to provide students as a result of the ever-increasing costs of bussing students to school. If the projected transportation costs continue to climb, we may find up to one-fourth of our rural school districts’ budgets are spent just getting the students to school – this is money that will not available to educate our children.
Later I met with the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and learned of the House budget targets for Regents Institutions and others, such as the Iowa Department for the Blind. As a result of the recession, the Department for the Blind had its budget sharply reduced in 2009 and still has not had its budget restored. I have received many letters and emails asking me to help in restoring those funds now that our budget picture has improved.
I was pleased to meet Mr. Hadley and his Pekin High School Government class, as well as members of Ms. Gardner’s Van Buren School FFA Chapter. I hope they enjoyed their day at the Capitol.
The afternoon passed very quickly as we passed a large number of bills. Most of the bills were noncontroversial and passed by a wide margin. Budget bills are starting to move out of committees and major issues such as commercial property tax reform, health care for low-income Iowans, and the funding of Iowa schools will soon occupy most of our attention.
Early Wednesday I met with interested sportsmen on the Senate side of the Capitol before hurrying off to a caucus meeting to prepare for the day’s meetings and debate. After a brief Education Appropriations Subcommittee, attended by many handicapped citizens, a budget was moved forward that several of us felt does not well serve the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens, including those who are blind. During the campaign, I was astonished by the number of vision-impaired people in our communities. Because it is very difficult for many of these people to travel they don’t leave home often. Many of these people utilize services provided by the Department for the Blind.
The Capitol was filled with visitors on Wednesday. County Recorders Ann Skaggs of Van Buren County and Kelly Spees of Jefferson County were some of the people I was able to visit with. The many records our county recorders keep are vital to business transactions, real estate, and licensing. I was also able to enjoy lunch with members of the Van Buren County Extension Council and met with Jefferson and Davis County Farm Bureau members later in the afternoon. I also met briefly with Davis, Jefferson and Van Buren County Supervisors.
Among many noncontroversial bills, the afternoon debate included one bill that should be a lightning rod for political debate: a bill calling for your choice of using a flat tax, or the present tax system. This choice would give people making $30,000 a $75 tax break, and a $42,000 tax break for those making $1,000,000 or more — 1,236 Iowans.
The impact of that loss in revenue on cities, counties, and schools is unknown. Of course, others argue that Iowa will experience an explosion of industry and population growth. So far I have not seen South Dakota, a state without a state income tax, experience such an explosion. Most people would be required to figure their taxes twice to see which method would be to their advantage. For many in agriculture and business, it would be possible to arrange to schedule their losses in one year, and use the present system to pay a very small tax. The next year when their profits are high and their expenses are low, they could opt for the 4.5 percent flat-tax system.
Of course “gaming” the system in this manner would not be possible for most middleclass Iowans earning wages. This flat tax proposal would not allow deductions for charitable giving! I could not support this bill and, in my opinion, it has little chance of success in the Senate or approval by the Governor.
A Senate bill that could offer an easy way to help middle class families by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (RITC) is in the works. The bill offers hard-working Iowans, many of whom are working two jobs, a tax cut to help their families. The bill would put $50 million into the hands of families earning up to $45,000 thereby helping more than 200,000 households in Iowa.
Iowa does have a balanced budget and Iowa does have about 1/7 of the budget in savings. Iowa is not Washington D.C.! Iowa has shown double digit growth in exports in recent years, well above the national average. A recent survey reported that nearly a quarter of Iowa businesses expect to hire new employees over the next month, one of the best rates in the country. Eco-nomically, Iowa continues to recover.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 641-919-2314.