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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 21, 2014

Views from across Iowa

Jan 30, 2014

Mason City Globe Gazette, Jan. 23.

Legislation aiding veterans belongs on fast track

 

Gov. Terry Branstad says he wants to make this legislative session a landmark one for the state’s veterans. We support that support for those who have served and are glad that legislation to aid them appears on a fast track.

Legislation to exempt military pensions from state income tax is moving quickly through the Senate, where a committee approved it without much ado on Thursday and where a full Senate vote is expected soon.

The tax break is for veterans who retired from active duty, National Guard and military reserves. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013.

“That means no state income tax on military retirement anymore,” Branstad said to cheers from the veterans attending Wednesday’s Veterans Day observance.

This is much more than a well-deserved honor and thank-you to veterans for their service.

Kent Hartwig, a lobbyist for the American Legion of Iowa, told lawmakers that the bill addresses veterans, economic development and skilled workforce issues by assisting veterans who will be trained, motivated and looking for a second career.

It is a key part of Branstad’s budget plan. It would cost the state an estimated $10 million in annual revenue, but would be what the governor calls a “great opportunity” for employers looking to fill jobs with newly discharged military veterans.

Timing of the legislation is right, the governor says, because of the “substantial reduction” in the military due to federal cutbacks.

Iowa needs workers and many veterans have unique skills they developed in the military. Drawing more of them to Iowa would expand the workforce and bolster the economy.

Other benefits could be higher school enrollments as veterans choose to establish families, and more neighborhood growth as veterans become active community members.

It would seem that $10 million in lost revenue could be made up easily as more veterans return to or move into Iowa.

Veterans like what they’re hearing so far if Wednesday’s Veterans Day crowd in Des Moines was any indication.

“I thought about leaving because of the tax,” said Timothy McLaughlin of Nevada, an Army veteran. “It would be a significant factor in the decision whether I stay or go.”

This plan makes it clear that Iowa wants veterans to stay and wants more of them to come to work and enjoy what Iowa has to offer.

The fast track is the appropriate place for this legislation.

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The Des Moines Register, Jan. 24

New regulations needed to deal with nation’s water

 

Iowa has filthy water. This state ranks among the worst in the country for fecal bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Ingredients used in fertilizers applied to farm fields are among the main source of contaminants. They run off land, speed the death of Iowa waterways and ultimately contribute to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa manages to earn mention in nearly every national report about dirty water. The one issued in December by the Government Accountability Office is no exception. It is yet another painful reminder of flawed policies that don’t adequately address so-called nonpoint (runoff/agricultural) pollution.

Runoff from 580 acres of nearby farmland flows into Jasper County’s Mariposa Lake “which is to support designated uses of swimming and aquatic life,” according to the nonpartisan government watchdog agency. While it is known cropland is contributing to the lake’s pollution problem, it is not clear what specific action should be taken to correct problems.

The goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act cannot be met without new regulations that recognize the reality of the agricultural industry today. Congress should revisit the law to address nonpoint source pollution, according to the GAO, because the water is not getting any cleaner, regulating the way we are regulating now.

The “EPA has estimated that at historical funding levels and water body restoration rates, it would take longer than 1,000 years to restore all the water bodies that are now impaired by nonpoint source pollution,” the GAO says.

That’s right, 1,000 years.

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Quad-City Times, Jan. 25

Public casino perils show up in Iowa

 

We’re certain nothing like this would ever have happened if Davenport’s elected leaders put taxpayers into the casino business.

But we’re elated the city council ultimately made the correct decision and backed away from a deal rife with conflicts.

Like these:

Des Moines Register investigative reporters disclosed an annual salary exceeding $700,000 for the CEO of Dubuque’s publicly owned Mystique Casino. Jesus Aviles’ salary jumped 38 percent, while casino revenue dropped 20 percent over the past five years.

The CEO at Polk County’s publicly owned Prairie Meadows enjoyed a 62 percent pay increase since 2008, while casino revenue during that time dropped 1 one percent. Gary Palmer’s current salary? $652,747. Prairie Meadows public board on Wednesday added a $150,000 bonus to his compensation.

Of course, leaders in Dubuque and Polk County justify the expenses as necessary to compete in this tough business. They cite salary studies that base their CEOs’ pay at levels for private casinos and leaders for major public museums. We’re certain these boards can unearth all kinds of justification for any level of salary.

That was our concern with Davenport’s proposal. The gambling business changes much more quickly than traditional city work. The Prairie Meadows and Mystique boards no doubt had best intentions when jacking up their CEOs’ pay to stay competitive. But they lost sight of the bigger picture. Private businesses may choose to boost compensation at stockholders’ expense. Public boards simply can’t keep ratcheting up pay at taxpayer expense.

That’s not the only conflict inherent to public casino ownership. The Register disclosed that 40 Prairie Meadows board members, staff and some spouses enjoyed a Las Vegas convention in September, compliments of their taxpayer bosses. Perhaps those board members believed the junket was chump change coming from an operation that grossed $15 million last month.

With all those zeroes, those public casino board members might have believed they were entitled. That’s what can happen when government plunges into headlong competition with private business.

And we’re so glad it didn’t happen here.

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Fort Dodge Messenger, Jan. 25

This should be an easy call

 

U.S. Supreme Court justices often are called upon to interpret difficult, highly technical points of law and the Constitution. At least some of them may be grateful their current agenda includes a no-brainer.

It is a case involving President Barack Obama’s unconstitutional appointment of members of the National Labor Relations Board.

NLRB members, like many high-level executive branch officials, normally are nominated by the president, then confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But two years ago, when some senators balked at Obama’s NLRB nominees, he installed them himself.

Obama used a “recess appointment” to appoint the NLRB members without Senate approval. Such appointments can be made when the Senate is in recess, unavailable to deal with a president’s nominees.

Previous presidents have abused the power, but not to the extent Obama did. Three federal courts already have ruled against him.

Obama made the appointments during a period in which the Senate was holding “pro forma” sessions once each three days. Such sessions often do not include enough senators to take action. Still, under the Constitution, they are sessions - not recesses.

Justices have several technical issues to address in the case. The bottom line is whether the president acted constitutionally, however.

Clearly, he did not.

That should make it easy for the high court to rule against him and curb at least one of the Obama administration’s excesses.

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