April 18, 2015

Thousands expected to ask for extension to file federal taxes

IRS LogoFederal tax returns are due by midnight tonight and officials with the Internal Revenue Service expect more than 57,000 Iowans will be requesting an extension this year.

IRS spokesman Bill Brunson says you can go the antiquated route, using a paper form that needs to be postmarked before midnight, or speed up the process with a few clicks on the agency’s website.

Brunson says, “All you need to do is go to IRS.gov and click on the Free File icon where you can choose to request an extension automatically for an additional six months online at no charge.” You have until midnight to make the request, which will push your federal tax deadline back to October 15th. While it used to be a circus-like atmosphere on April 15th, with procrastinators rushing to the post office late at night, most of those offices now keep regular business hours on tax deadline day.

Brunson notes e-filing has all but eliminated that urgency and Iowa is one of the nation’s e-filing leaders.”The Internal Revenue Service expects more than 1.4-million returns for this reporting period and of that 1.4 million, 1.3-million are expected to be electronically filed,” Brunson says. “That’s a rate of 93 percent of Iowans who will choose to electronically file their tax return.”

E-filers also have until midnight to complete the tax task, which Brunson says is more accurate, since the program won’t let you make a math error. He touts another benefit.

“Your electronic return is secure in the sense that, if you have a refund coming, you can choose to have it directly deposited in your savings or checking account, and that item won’t get lost or stolen like an old-fashioned paper check,” Brunson says. “You can expect to get a refund from the Internal Revenue Service in 21 days or less.” E-filing saves the IRS a bundle. Processing a paper return costs $3.54 on average, while an e-filed return costs more like 18 cents.


AIB makes cuts in staff as enrollment drops

AIB-signThe AIB College of Business in Des Moines is cutting several positions as it moves toward shutting down. The school plans to close down its operations on June 30th of next year as the campus is given to the University of Iowa.

A transition update released by the school today says 17 of the approximately 80 full-time AIB staff members were notified Monday that their positions will be eliminated on June 8th of this year.

The update says the staff are being cut based on projections of lower enrollment, and it is anticipated that more jobs will be cut later this year.

The school says it will keep a core staff until the closing next year, and faculty members who are remaining on staff have been given contracts outlining their employment agreements. It also says AIB will partner with Iowa Workforce Development to provide support to those employees who are losing their jobs.


Branstad rejecting Department of Labor advice about chief judge

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad is resisting the U.S. Department of Labor’s advisory about the job classification as well as the qualifications for a key state government employee.

“I think the responsibilities of that position have changed,” Branstad told reporters Monday.

According to the Labor Department, the chief in charge of Iowa administrative law judges who rule on disputed unemployment claims should be a merit employee, meaning someone hired based on their qualifications and who has the right to appeal his or her firing. Branstad has made the chief an “at will” political appointment, so the chief judge can hired and fired for any reason. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who asked for the Labor Department review, said making it a political appointment doesn’t make sense.

“The only reason I can see why you would fight so hard to have political appointees there — you’re really trying to influence this stuff,” Dotzler said.

Branstad said the chief no longer decides cases, but merely oversees the judges who do and makes case assignments.

“So it’s more an administrative position today,” Branstad said. “They’re not making decisions based on contested cases.”

But Senator Dotzler said the chief can certainly “boss” the judges to rule a certain way.

“That’s political influence,” Dotzler said. “…I would think that the governor would want to be one step removed from that so he doesn’t get accused of this being bought.”

The agency director who resigned abruptly in early January told The Des Moines Register she tried to heed the U.S. Department of Labor’s directive to change the chief administrative law judge to a merit employee, but was overruled by Branstad’s top aides. Branstad told reporters on Monday he doesn’t “micromanage” and won’t discuss this personnel decision.

State unemployment rate drops again in February

Workforce-Development-signThe state’s unemployment rate continues on its downward trend with February dropping down to 4.1-percent from January’s rate of 4.2-percent.

Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, says it’s the fifth straight month with a drop. “We continue to see drops in the number of people who are unemployed. We are down 4,000 from a year ago for the number of people who are unemployed,” Koonce says. “And our number of people who are actually receiving unemployment insurance is down almost 12,000 from last month as well.”

The number of unemployed dropped, even though the state lost some jobs in the month, the first decline in jobs since September. “We dropped 400 jobs, which isn’t very big. Most of that being in the trade, transportation and utilities area. We saw a larger growth in that last month than really was expects, so I think that was just some leveling out,” according to Koonce.

Several areas did add jobs. “We saw nice growth in manufacturing, nice growth in education and health services — so those really helped the state as well,” Koonce says. Workforce Development figures show manufacturing added 1,200 jobs, the education and health care areas increased jobs fueled entirely by gains in private education of one-thousand jobs.

The number of unemployed Iowans dropped to 70,100 in February from 71,800 in January. Koonce says warmer weather should lead to more job gains. “Because you will have a lot of those people who are on temporary unemployment coming back to work. And we saw some gains in construction this month, the biggest gains are coming in industrial, which is good, because that shows overall growth,” Koonce says.

The national unemployment rate was 5.5-percent in February.


Iowa Air National Guard opens first recruiting office outside of base

New Iowa Air National Guard recruiting office.

New Iowa Air National Guard recruiting office.

The Iowa Air National Guard opened its first storefront recruiting office today in West Des Moines. Guard leader Adjutant General Timothy Orr  says it’s a new method of recruiting for the Air Guard.

“Sometimes when you are out on a base and because of the procedures for security and that , it’s kind of intimidating to say I am going to drive onto a base to check out recruiting,” Orr says. “So, what we’ve done is kind of made it an approach where you can go out into your community like you’re shopping for clothes, you’re shopping for a career. Here’s an opportunity for you to shop for a military career.”

Colonel Kevin Heer and General Tim Orr cut the ribbon for the new recruiting office.

Colonel Kevin Heer and General Tim Orr (center L-R) cut the ribbon for the new recruiting office.

Orr says recruiting it a vital part of the Iowa National Guard. “Well, it’s the key to our readiness, and we like to maintain what we call 100 strength in our Army and Air National Guard. And as we’ve deployed over the last 13 years we’ve maintained about a little over 100 percent strength, and it’s important that we continue to do that. Our nation requires us to that, because we never know what the missions are going to be,” Orr says. “And then our state missions — which is our other responsibility for the governor — we have be ready. And we like to says it starts with our personnel.”

Orr says their recruiting process begins with looking for men and women who are willing to serve. “And that varies anywhere from the ages of 17, all the way up to about 34. We get a lot of prior service active-duty personnel who decided they want to come back to Iowa, and it’s tied very closely to the Home Base Iowa program that governor Branstad proposed,” Orr says. He says soldiers can serve between six and 10 year son active duty and they decide they want to come back and serve their community in guard and reserve.

A model of the MQ-9 Reaper hangs from the ceiling of the recruiting office.

A model of the MQ-9 Reaper hangs from the ceiling of the recruiting office.

The Iowa Air Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing transitioned into what is now called the 132nd Wing, which now flies unmanned drones instead of manned jet fighters long with two other missions. “I was the first one who fought very hard along with the governor to keep the F-16’s, but when we lost those, we worked very hard to get the next set of missions, which is the MQ-9 Reaper mission, the intelligence targeting mission and the cyber mission,” Orr explains. “All three are enduring future missions that the world and the nation needs in order to provide security and to be able to take the Air Force to its next level.”

Orr says the change in missions allows Iowa Air National Guard to stay at the forefront of the military. “These are missions where other states are going to be struggling with older aircraft and figuring out what are they going to get. We’re moving out with I think some of the top most advanced technology aspects of the Air Force that you can find,” Orr says.

Colonel Kevin Heer is commander of the 132nd, and is excited about the new recruiting office. “This is an amazing new chapter, we’ve always done recruiting on base, and just the limitations of getting people who aren’t in the military into our recruiting facility has always limited our ability to reach out,” Heer says. “This really gets us out in the community in a way to engage with those citizens who are going to become citizen airmen.”

The new Recruiting Operations Center (ROC) is located at 7205 Vista Drive, West Des Moines.


House GOP votes for changes in Iowa school districts’ contract negotiations

 Greg Forristall

Greg Forristall

Republicans in the Iowa House have passed a bill that would change the collective bargaining process for teachers and other school employees.

Under current law when there’s a stalemate in negotiations, an arbitrator is called in and must choose the final offer from either labor or from management. The bill would allow an arbitrator to reject both sides and choose some middle ground. Representative Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia, said giving an arbitrator more freedom makes sense.

“It simply means that the award can be within the scope of reality,” Forristall said to close the debate, “so if the employer is offering one percent and the union is demanding nine percent, the arbitrator can choose something that is real.”

Republicans argued the current system stacks the deck against taxpayers and there should be no expectation that teachers get a raise every year. Union groups are staunchly opposed to the bill and it is unlikely to even be considered in the Democratically-led Iowa Senate.

“This bill is a continuation of the Republican attack on our children and their education,” Smith said near the end of debate on the legislation. “It’s a smoke-screen for the real issue.”

That real issue, Smith and other Democrats said, is a reluctance among Republicans to forward more state support to Iowa’s public schools. Legislators are still squabbling over how much state aid will be spent in the school year that begins this fall, plus they have failed to resolve the dilemma over the actual date when school may start in August.

The debate in the House on teacher contract negotiations lasted more than nine hours and stretched over two days, concluding just after noon today.

State unemployment drops 4th straight month

Workforce-DevIowa’s unemployment rate in January dropped to 4.2 percent, down from 4.3 percent in December and 4.4 percent one year ago.

Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) spokesperson Kerry Koonce says January marked the fourth consecutive month the state added jobs.

“We added 3,100 jobs in January, so we’re over 1,562,000 jobs for the state,” Koonce says. The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in January. Koonce says several industries in Iowa are at or near all-time highs in employment.

“We are up, over this time last year, almost 25,000 jobs…we’ve seen gains in sectors across the state, so that speaks very good for Iowa’s diversified economy,” Koonce says. The trade and transportation sector added 2,200 jobs in January, according to the IWD report. Professional and business services added 1,800 jobs. Around 900 construction jobs were eliminated across the state in January, but Koonce says that industry is still booming in Iowa.

“If you look at January of 2015 compared to January 2014, we’re up 6,500 jobs in construction,” Koonce says. Iowa’s construction sector is coming off an all-time high of 77,500 jobs reached in December.