Views from across Iowa
The Burlington Hawk Eye, Feb. 1
Public purposes: Iowa’s Lake Delhi to return with taxpayer help
It’s been four years since a raging Maquoketa River destroyed the 80-year-old dam that created Iowa’s Lake Delhi.
The ruined dam and now-dry lake bed are near the Delaware County town of Delhi, which is midway between Waterloo and Dubuque.
The 2010 flood also took out the spillway and the county road that ran along the top of the dam.
Finished in 1929, the dam was built to generate electricity for the area. That purpose ended in the 1970s, when the utility company ended its involvement and the Lake Delhi Recreation Association was created to take ownership of the dam. Ironically, with the resurgence of non-polluting energy sources the association was pursuing a contract to refurbish the old turbines and resume electrical generation when the dam broke, draining the 9-mile long lake.
Unlike most of Iowa’s man-made lakes, Delhi’s private managers allowed homes and cabins to be built along its shore line.
With the river confined to its old channel, property owners complained that they no longer have water access. Neither, of course, did anyone else who used the popular lake for recreation. The situation produced a statewide debate over what, if any, obligation the state or federal government had to rebuild the dam that primarily benefited a lot of private property owners.
To their credit, the property owners quickly formed a lake district to tax themselves. They passed a bond issue to help pay for reconstruction and took donations, too.
But it wasn’t enough.
So because the lake also served a public purpose as a place for recreation, state legislators eventually agreed to allocate $5 million in tax money to the project. In turn, Delaware County supervisors set aside almost $3 million for the $16 million restoration project.
Appropriately, the public contributions require significant improvements to the main public access area known as Turtle Creek Cove.
The Delhi project demonstrates the proper application of private-public partnerships. With building permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, work on the dam and spillway should begin this spring and be completed by fall. How long it will take for the lake to refill is uncertain.
If 10 inches of rain should fall in 12 hours, as it did on that fateful day in 2010 when the dam burst, it wouldn’t take long.
As it is, the people who used and loved and lived along Lake Delhi hope no such thing will happen. They will await the lake’s gradual reappearance with the same admirable conscientiousness and patience they have exhibited all along.
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Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Feb. 2
Farm bill falls short of actual reform
It took two years for Washington to get a farm bill ready and what’s on the table is something Sen. Chuck Grassley can’t in good conscience vote to support. Is the version recently passed by the House and to be voted on in the Senate really the best we can do?
The farm bill must strike a balance between helping the small family farm withstand market price volatility and being financially responsible to taxpayers. What we ended up with — after two years of debate — is neither of those things.
It didn’t have to be this way.
From the beginning of discussion about rewriting the farm bill, Grassley, R-Iowa, has advocated for subsidy reform. He championed provisions that would have capped farm payments and accurately defined who should be considered a farmer. Those measures were adopted in both the House and Senate versions by wide margins. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the floor.
Changes in the conference committee eliminated those provisions — which would have saved taxpayers nearly $400 million. The way it stands now, 10 percent of farmers receive 70 percent of the benefits in the farm bill. It does nothing to limit the amount of subsidies a farmer with the right lawyer can accrue.
The changes in committee also failed to close the loophole that makes it easy for non-farmers to receive farm subsidies. So much for Grassley’s common-sense approach limiting entities to one non-farming manager.
It was time to get a farm bill done. Farmers needed to know that the crop insurance program they rely on remains in place. And the nutrition program reforms are a positive step. All in all, the bill does save $16.6 billion, which sounds like a pretty good number until you consider that it will spend nearly a trillion dollars.
Chipping away at our government’s $17 trillion debt is not a job that begins next year or even next week. Our elected officials need to look at every opportunity right now to save money in every piece of legislation that comes across the desk. The farm bill provided an opportunity to improve the system through reform and save millions at the same time. And a conference committee went out of its way to do neither of those things. Missed opportunities have become the calling card of Congress.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the Obama administration have the authority to include a rule regarding the number of people who can be eligible for farm subsidies. Administration officials should use the full force of their positions to do what Congress failed to do. As for further reforms, we’ll add them to the list of missed opportunities.
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Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 30
Schultz’s hunt for fraud disenfranchises eligible voters
A few weeks ago, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced the state was filing charges in nine additional voter fraud cases — all concerning felons who voted in the 2012 general election without having had their voting rights restored.
We’ve already opined repeatedly against Schultz’s instance on playing Captain Ahab to what he views as the White Whale of statewide voter fraud. And so far — despite Schultz’s having pledged to spend more than a quarter-million dollars on such investigations — that White Whale has seemed more like a minnow.
And we’ve likewise opined repeatedly against Gov. Terry Branstad’s issuing an executive order to stop Iowa from automatically restoring the voting rights of felons once they have paid their debt to society. Branstad’s order nullified the one issued by his predecessor, Tom Vilsack, and created an incredibly complicated situation for determining which ex-felons have the right to vote and which ex-felons, if they cast a vote, risk committing yet another felony.
So Schultz’s announcement last week makes it seem like he’s fishing for his White Whale in a stocked pond. Rather than find evidence of widespread voter impersonation — the imagined rationale behind Schultz’s advocacy for new voter ID laws — the vast majority of the charges filed have been against felons who vote even though they are on the wrong side of that blurry, jagged line.
But it seems Schultz can’t figure out for himself who is on the right and wrong side of that divide. Before the 2012 election, Schultz’s office issued a list of about 46,000 names of felons who supposedly were ineligible to vote. At least three names — probably more — were on the list incorrectly.
In late January, Cerro Gordo County Auditor Ken Kline sent a letter to Schultz saying the list had caused his office to have eight Iowans cast provisional ballots in the 2012 presidential election. After Schultz’s office confirmed the eight names were on the list, Kline rejected the ballots. Nearly a month later, however, the Department of Criminal Investigation agent working with Schultz notified Klein that three of the voters should not have been on list in the first place.
As an auditor, Kline could not have determined for himself whether those Iowans were eligible voters. (Such a check requires someone with the same level of access and expertise as a DCI agent.) So Kline has urged Schultz to take action to ensure the accuracy of the other names on the list.
However, Schultz’s spokesman issued a statement disavowing the office of responsibility: “Concerns about the accuracy of the list should be addressed to the state court administrator and the 99 clerks of court, not the Secretary of State’s Office.”
In other words, if a felon mistakenly assumes he is on the right side of that confusingly-drawn line, then Schultz will come after him with the full force of law. But if Schultz keeps eligible voters from voting because he mistakenly believes they are on the wrong side of that line, then he doesn’t even have to issue an apology.
We’re glad to see the Iowa Senate’s State Government Committee has scheduled a fact-finding hearing on the matter. And we hope these cases of disenfranchisement will persuade Iowa officials finally to end Schultz’s fishing expedition.