July 31, 2014

Iowa tax climate ranks low, 40th out of 50 states

Iowa’s tax climate ranks among the worst in the nation according to a new report released by the “Future of Iowa Foundation.” The group is a subsidiary of the Iowa Taxpayers Association and its report ranks Iowa’s overall tax system 40th out of the 50 states.

Iowa Taxpayers Association president Dustin Blythe says members of his organization will meet August 19 to start a conversation about how to improve that ranking.

“Trying to come up with a broad-based tax reform agenda,” Blythe says.

One reaon Iowa’s overall tax system ranks so low is because the state’s sales tax is so high. A two percent sales tax was first imposed in Iowa in 1934. It has tripled since then, to six percent.

“What we actually have subject to tax from what we had subject to tax in 1970 to now has almost gone from 70 percent down to 30,” Blythe says, “which means your sales tax rate has to go up if you’re taxing (fewer and fewer) items.”

The group’s report also says the tax has to go up because there are fewer people in Iowa — a net loss of more than 60,000 people over the last 20 years. In addition, Iowa has the nation’s highest corporate income tax and the state’s top personal income tax rate is nearly nine percent.

“Obviously the high rates, at least on paper, give us the appearance that we’re uncompetitve on a national scale,” Blythe says.

Iowans are able to deduct their federal income tax bill from their income before calculating how much they owe in state income taxes. It makes Iowa’s income taxes appear far higher. Republicans, though, have resisted efforts to get rid of that deduction, which is only allowed in five other states, arging it would be a tax on a tax. Blythe says his group is open to the idea of getting rid of that deduction, but only if the move is part of “comprehensive” reform of the state’s entire tax system.

Iowa GOP says Democratic candidate’s idea could endanger first-in-nation Iowa Caucuses

Republican-logoRepublicans are attacking the Democratic candidate who’s running to be Iowa’s top election official, saying Brad Anderson is endangering Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Caucuses by suggesting technology in the secretary of state’s office could be used for the Iowa Caucuses.

Jeff Patch, the communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, says candidates for secretary of state shouldn’t be muddling in the Iowa Caucus process.

“The parties themselves are perfectly capable of handling the Caucus procedures, Patch says. “…We don’t think that the secretary of state should have any sort of role in managing or providing logistical support for the Caucuses because that would require state employees and state resources.”

Patch says using the voter registration data maintained by the secretary of state’s office would make the Iowa Caucuses the functional equivalent of a primary.

“Mr. Anderson’s plan to use the secretary of state’s office to inject state government into partisan politics will create a problem with other states who are looking to challenge Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status,” Patch says.

Anderson says the integrity of Iowa’s Caucuses should be the goal of all Iowans, regardless of their party affiliation.

“Over the years Iowa taxpayers have invested a lot of time and resources into award-winning poll book technology that could really help check Iowans into the Caucuses and ensure that only eligible Iowans are participating,” Anderson says.

Anderson says his idea would “strengthen the Caucuses.”

“I’m confident that once the elections are over and cooler heads prevail we can find a way that the state can partner with the two parties in a way that is both appropriate and fiscally prudent,” Anderson says.

For more than four decades, Iowa’s Caucuses have been the kick-off event in presidential campaign years. Past winners like Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 leveraged their opening round victories in the Iowa Caucuses to secure their parties’ presidential nominations.

Jeff Kaufmann, the new chairman of the Iowa GOP, said in a written statement that he’ll meet with “reasonable Democrats” in the future to discuss ways to “protect” the first-in-the-nation status of Iowa’s Caucuses. Kaufmann, who called Anderson’s idea “ill-advised, was elected Iowa GOP chairman on June 28. Kaufmann plans to meet with Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan soon “to transparently discuss ways for both parties to cooperate to ensure that Iowa’s precinct caucuses retain their historic status as the first test of presidential candidates.”

Paulsen places second in ‘Night of Destruction’ race (video)

Staff with the Republican Party of Iowa have uploaded a video to youtube showing the top Republican in the Iowa legislature racing at the Jackson County Fair on Sunday night.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha raced a yellow school bus in what was billed as the “Night Destruction” bus race. One of the required elements in the 10-lap race was driving the bus over a huge bump and the video shows Paulsen’s bus teetering on two wheels once it came back to earth, but Paulsen was quickly able to get the bus back on all fours and he wound up finishing in second place.

Earlier this year Paulsen told reporters he is a NASCAR fan and his favorite driver is Mark Martin. Paulsen’s comments in mid-February came as legislators were drafting bills that granted state tax breaks to the race tracks in Newton and Knoxville.

Dave Schrader, a Democrat from Monroe who is a former House leader, used to race stock cars and Schrader often said the experience drove home a lesson that translated well to politics: always stay focused on the task at hand.

Harkin hoping for senate ratification of international treaty on disability rights

Senator Tom Harkin and others hoping to get the U.S. Senate to ratify an international treaty on disability rights are hoping support from veterans groups will help switch opponents into supporters.

“We’re working on it. We have some problems, but we’re going to try. I never give up,” Harkin says. “The veterans groups are really focused on this now.”

Harkin, the main sponsor of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, says the rest of the world is waiting for the U.S. to join the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“I’m not here to tell you that if we join it, it’s going to change the world overnight, but it will start us on the path,” Harkin says. “It’ll start changing things.”

In late 2012, the U.N. treaty on rights for people with disabilities failed to win ratification in the U.S. Senate, falling short by five votes. Today is the first day it’s eligible for another vote. Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights notes all the major U.S. veterans groups lined up at a news conference last week as a show of support for the treaty.

“Veterans who gave everything for the country, but now can’t get the support they need to be able to travel around the world,” Henderson said last Friday, “to be able to work overseas, to bring their families because the countries in which they’d like to work often don’t have the accommodations to allow them to do what they can do.”

Henderson and Harkin participated in a forum at Drake University last Friday to mark the 24th anniversay of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Kelly Buckland, another speaker at the event, hinted there will be a big demonstration in Washington, D.C. this week to put the pressure on Senators to act.

“There’s only a few of them that are standing in the road of the United States ratifying the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and we need to convince them it’s the right thing to do for America,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do for the rest of the world and the United States needs to maintain its leadership in the rights of people with disabilities.”

While Harkin supports the treaty, Republican Chuck Grassley — Iowa’s other U.S. Senator — voted against it in 2012. Grassley’s long-time friend — former Kansas Senator Bob Dole — went to capitol hill last week to urge reluctant Republicans to support the treaty.

In December of 2012, Grassley said he had “serious concerns” the treaty could give a United Nations committee authority to criticize U.S. disability laws and “infringe on U.S. sovereignty.”

Ernst criticized for taking campaign cash from ExxonMobil PAC

Joni Ernst campaigned at an Urbandale restaurant this morning.

Joni Ernst campaigned at an Urbandale restaurant this morning.

Republican Joni Ernst says she has no reservations about having organizations that oppose ethanol help raise money for her U.S. Senate campaign.

Ernst will appear Wednesday at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser sponsored by the political action committees for ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. Ernst was asked this morning if she felt “uncomfortable” attending a fundraiser sponsored by ethanol critics.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable because they know where I stand with the Renewable Fuels Standard,” Ernst said. “I stand firmly behind that and my record in the Iowa Senate backs that up.”

A new ad blasts Ernst for not refusing the campaign contributions from an “army of lobbyists” representing “big oil.” Ernst has said she’s philosophically opposed to taxpayer subsidies for ethanol, but would support them until tax subsidies are eliminated “for every sector.”

Ernst is the subject of another ad which calls her an “extremist” who would privatize Social Security.

“Oh for heaven sakes,” Ernst said this morning when asked about the label. “I am not extreme, I’ll tell you that.”

Ernst said promises made to seniors who are getting Social Security benefits today must be kept, but she is open to changes for future generations.

“We need to look at solutions moving forward to make sure that my daughters and my grandchildren, all of our children and grandchildren, have that same Social Security system or a semblance of that,” Ernst said. “Whatever form that is in, we have to make sure it’s there for our children and grandchildren.”

Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, returned to the Iowa campaign trail today after two weeks of active duty spent training in Wisconsin.  Listen to audio from her campaign speech and news conference here.

In other news from Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, Democracy for America — the group founded by former presidential candidate Howard Dean — has endorsed Democrat Bruce Braley. Over the weekend, Politico – a D.C.-based publication – reported the Braley campaign recently replaced its ad maker and pollster.

State auditor says current state budget amounts to $7.4 billion in spending

State Auditor Mary Mosiman is predicting the state budget will remain in the black for the next 11 months, even though the latest budget plan spends $171 million more than the state is expected to collect in taxes. Mosiman says the state’s ample surplus will cover the difference.

“These are dollars that are not new revenue in this fiscal year, but they are revenes that have been received over previous fiscal years.” Mosiman says.

Mosiman has just released her analysis of the state spending plan lawmakers and the governor approved this spring for the budgeting year that began July 1. She gives lawmakers good marks for “spending discipline” and for filling up all the reserve accounts set aside for economic emergencies. But Mosiman is warning that lawmakers cannot keep dipping into the state surplus to finance education reform and fulfill the promise that the state would make payments to local governments as commercial property tax rates go down.

“In other words we have two key laws that were enacted in 2013 that start having a financial impact on this year and future year budgets,” Mosiman says, “so long-term planning is key.”

Mosiman says the state currently has a $746 million surplus, but by June 30 of next year it will likely be reduced to around $575 million. Legislators drafted a budget plan this spring and Governor Branstad took final action on the budget bills in May and June, nixing some spending proposals. The auditor’s report concludes the final spending plan for state government operations totals $7.4 billion.

Mosiman, a Republican, was appointed state auditor over a year ago by Governor Terry Branstad and she’s on the November ballot, seeking a four-year term as state auditor.

Hatch: ‘I value lieutenant governor…more than Governor Branstad does’

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, says it’s important for his running mate and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who is Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s running mate, to have a public debate before the November election.

“The lieutenant governor’s office is very obviously important,” Hatch said this morning. “That person has to succeed the governor if there is any reason for him not to carry out the functions of his office and I value the lieutenant governor, apparently, a lot more than Governor Branstad does.”

Last month, Branstad’s campaign said Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds would not debate Monica Vernon, the person Hatch chose as his running mate and who was confirmed as the Iowa Democratic Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor during the party’s state convention June 21st. In 1990, Iowa’s governor and lieutenant governor began running together in the same way the president and vice president do. Hatch saod it’s important that Iowans be able to evaluate the person who’d be a heart-beat away from the governor’s office.

“We’re elected together,” Hatch said. “This is an opportunity for Iowans to see what the team of the office of governor and lieutenant governor can do for the state.”

In June, a spokesman for the Branstad campaign said this is a campaign “between Terry Branstad and Jack Hatch and that is whom voters expect to see in a debate.” Branstad has agreed to three debates, one at the Iowa State Fair on August 14, followed by a debate in Burlington on September 20 and one on October 14 in Sioux City. Hatch has been pressing for more debates, in places like Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities.