Views from across Iowa
Sioux City Journal, Aug. 8
Auditor offers wise warning about state budget
When it comes to the overall state of our state, much good news exists.
For example: With a budget surplus of $746 million and plenty of money set aside in special funds for the proverbial “rainy day” entering this budget year, Iowa enjoys fiscal strength. Also of note is the fact 24/7 Wall Street, in its most-recent rating of how well the 50 states are run (the rating was released in November 2013), ranked Iowa number three. The annual review is based on a comprehensive study of data on financial health, standard of living and government services.
In other words, we are doing an awful lot of stuff right.
Still, in what was a largely complimentary annual review of Iowa’s budget, State Auditor Mary Mosiman recently raised a reasonable concern worth repeating. She cautioned state leaders against passage of more accelerated multiple-year commitments against the general fund, as is the case with commercial property tax reform and education reform passed in 2013.
Balancing the fiscal 2015 budget will require taking $171 million out of surplus funds, Mosiman said. Put another way, the Legislature passed and Gov. Terry Branstad signed a budget for this year in which more money will be spent by the state than the state is projected to take in. Some $136 million will be spent for the first year of a multiple-year plan to reduce commercial property taxes.
We understand commercial property tax reform and education reform (reforms we supported) will put pressure on the budget in this and future fiscal years (although we believe both reforms will produce economic advantages for the state over the long term), but Mosiman is right to raise a warning flag to legislative leaders and Branstad about expensive, long-term commitments.
They do, indeed, produce the need for increased fiscal discipline.
Lawmakers and the governor should avoid easy reliance on general fund spending gaps and the practice of dipping heavily into surplus funds to meet them.
Difficult as it might be in the face of accelerated multiple-year commitments for important reforms, the goal should be and the more prudent course is to make do with what’s projected for revenue, thus preventing greater fiscal challenges down the road.
As Mosiman said: “It is paramount they plan accordingly.”
The Des Moines Register, Aug. 7
U.S. needs to get serious about water pollution
When officials said it was unsafe to drink or even bathe in Toledo, Ohio’s municipal water supplies last weekend, it was a major inconvenience for nearly a half-million residents.
It was also a wake-up call for the rest of the nation to the fact that water pollution can directly affect the health of humans as well as rivers, lakes and aquatic life.
The question is whether this news will lead to meaningful action to improve water quality in this country. The water problem that made the news in Toledo is also an issue for bodies of water ranging from Minnesota, California, Cape Cod and Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico — and Iowa.
Des Moines officials said this week that if the right circumstances were to occur locally, Iowa’s largest metro area could have to deal with the same situation.
It is time for the nation and these affected regions to commit to meaningful action.
Toledo draws its drinking water from Lake Erie, which is routinely affected by algae plumes created by excess nutrients flowing into the water from agricultural areas, urban sewage and industrial waste. It appears the plume on Lake Erie that settled directly over Toledo’s water intake pipes spawned toxic microcystin, which may cause diarrhea, vomiting and liver problems.
The drinking water ban was lifted Monday, but the toxic algae plume won’t go away permanently anytime soon. Unless water quality improves on Lake Erie, according to experts quoted by the New York Times, the problem Toledo encountered could potentially affect 11 million residents living along the lake.
The reasons cited for the growth of algae plumes include intensive farming, animal confinements, urbanization and industrialization in the region. Whereas the federal regulators can legally require compliance by cities and factories, Ohio’s plan for dealing with the problem relies on voluntary compliance by agriculture.
If this sounds familiar, that is because Iowa and other Midwest states have used the same voluntary approach to reducing excess nutrients in the Mississippi River basin. Those nutrients, which come mostly from agriculture, feed massive algae plumes in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s known as the dead zone because the plumes starve oxygen needed by aquatic life.
It is hard to say whether Iowa’s nutrient reduction strategy is having significant impact, but recent evidence is not encouraging. On Monday, the size of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone was measured at more than 5,000 square miles, or the size of Connecticut. Though the dead zone is somewhat smaller than in 2013, the five-year average is still nearly three times the size set as a goal 13 years ago as part of a national effort to reduce the size of the zone.
Leaders of farm organizations and state agriculture and environmental officials in Iowa point to anecdotal evidence that farmers are improving their land-use practices to stop excess nutrients from washing downstream. Those examples are encouraging, but Iowa agricultural and political leaders oppose setting quantifiable goals for water quality and measuring results within specific watersheds.
That opposition must end. Otherwise those examples are just anecdotes, and there will be no way to know for sure what farming practices are effective. When practices that work can be quantified — if not measured at each farm, at least within regional watersheds — the public should be willing to help farmers pay for the necessary investment.
Stories have attracted the nation’s attention about people in an Ohio city the size of metro Des Moines losing their drinking water, or the fishing industry in Louisiana struggling to survive. Now states like Ohio and Iowa should show the nation they are serious about achieving clean water.
Globe Gazette. Aug. 10
Task force should work quickly on Lake vets memorial
It’s difficult when you are excited about something to be told you have to be patient and wait. For the supporters of a proposed veterans memorial in Clear Lake, who want the memorial placed along the downtown Sea Wall, the answer to wait is at least better than a flat “no.”
In what has turned into a community controversy that began more than two months ago, a group of Clear Lake veterans working through VFW Post 4868 came up with a plan to build a memorial along the Sea Wall. After receiving initial support from the Clear Lake City Council, the group ran into opposition at the Clear Lake Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
The latest action, taken last week by the City Council, was to accept a recommendation from the Parks and Rec Board that the memorial not be placed at the Sea Wall — for now. The council also voted to form a citizens task force, to make recommendations both for the location and the design of a fitting veterans memorial for the community.
The veterans’ initial proposal was for three 5-foot-high tribute walls, recognizing veterans from Clear Lake and Ventura who have contributed in this country’s wars since World War I. There would also be three flag poles and a small flower garden to be maintained by volunteers. It would be 35 feet wide at its widest.
Veterans and supporters who want the Sea Wall site say that it would put the memorial in a prominent city location befitting the respect and honor that area veterans deserve.
Opposition to the Sea Wall location generally falls into two camps: those who think the memorial would obstruct the view of the lake or impede lakefront access, and those who think the Sea Wall location would not be a place of honor and respect because of the business and noise at that location and the potential for vandalism.
At a hearing last month, the Parks and Rec Board voted 5 to 1 to recommend that the memorial not be placed at the Sea Wall.
For many groups and organizations — governmental bodies especially — forming a committee to study an issue is a polite way of ignoring the question or avoiding a difficult decision. We trust that isn’t the intent in this case, and that the task force will be quickly formed and then go about expeditiously examining the issue and making a recommendation. We would also expect the Parks and Rec Board and the City Council to quickly move on that recommendation.
From the beginning of this controversy, there has been agreement on one thing by everyone who has voiced an opinion — that Clear Lake should have a memorial somewhere to honor the veterans who have given so much in service to the community and the country. We concur.
We have said since early in this process that we support the idea of a Clear Lake veterans memorial, and we think the Sea Wall would be an appropriate site.
We haven’t changed our opinion on that matter, but we also can find little fault in the idea of a group of concerned citizens taking a little time to examine all the options available to the city. It is entirely possible that the task force will find a location that makes more sense than the Sea Wall. It is equally possible that the task force may end up recommending the Sea Wall as the best location.
Since the City Council must approve not only the location but also the design of any memorial or other structure being placed on public property, the task force will also look at potential designs for a memorial. In this case we encourage the task force to back the veterans group’s proposal unless it turns out there are significant reasons not to.
In any case, let’s get this matter resolved quickly, so Clear Lake can go about giving veterans the recognition and the honor they deserve.