October 20, 2014

In final debate, Hatch says Branstad ‘close to…lying’ while Branstad dismisses ‘wild accusations’

Tonight Republican Governor Terry Branstad and Jack Hatch, the Democratic challenger, met in Sioux City for their third and final televised debate. The hour-long event gave Hatch’s low-budget campaign perhaps its final chance to make an impression with voters and Hatch came out swinging, criticizing Branstad’s priority of cutting property taxes and questioning Branstad’s job creation claims.

“We can’t afford four more years of Terry Branstad and his promises kept or broken,” Hatch said.

Branstad dismissed what he referred to as Hatch’s “wild accusations.”

“And the state of Iowa is on the right track,” Branstad said.

Hatch argued it’s time to cut income taxes for middle class Iowans.

“You know we’ve done a lot of corporations,” Hatch said. “We haven’t done very much for the people who work for them and that’s going to be my focus in the next four years.”

Branstad defended the bill he signed which has begun reducing commercial and industrial property taxes.

“And I’ve had people all over Iowa say: ‘Thank you for doing something that was promised for 30 years and you’ve finally delivered,” Bransad said. “The Iowa commercial and industrial property tax is going down.”

Sioux City journalists who moderated the debate also focused attention on an issue important to the host city for the event: completing the expansion of Highway 20 to four lanes. Hatch said Iowans are “expecting to have better roads.”

“There’s no better example from Governor Branstad of his broken promises than the completion of Highway 20,” Hatch said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do now that he hasn’t done the previous 20 years as governor.”

Branstad said it will likely take a combination of things to get this and other highway projects done, including federal funding and perhaps a shift to charging the state sales tax on gasoline purchases to raise more funds at the state level.

“We’ve been working on Highway 20 for a long time,” Branstad said. “We’ve only got 45 miles left. We need to get that done expeditiously and that’s the segment from Moville to Early.”

In the 2010 campaign, Branstad promised that if he was elected he’d create 200,000 new jobs in Iowa within five years. Tonight Branstad was asked how many jobs have been created since he returned to the governor’s office in January of 2011.

“I’m proud to say that we’ve been working on this every day since we came into office and in a little over three and a half years, we’ve created 150,900 jobs,” Branstad said. “…We have created more jobs in less than four years than the previous two governors did in 12 years.”

Hatch said that’s “close to…lying.”

“He’s created less than 80,000 jobs…Even a fifth grader knows you have to subtract those jobs that were lost,” Hatch said. “And what about those 80,000 jobs that were lost? Are they not important? I’m going to be a governor who focuses on those lost jobs as well.”

Halfway through the debate, the candidates were asked to cite something they admired in their opponent and the two offered “respect” to the other for putting their name on the ballot. Branstad then looked past November 4.

“I think working together is important,” Branstad said. “Once the election’s over, we need to recognize we all are public servants. We need to serve the people of Iowa.”

Hatch said he’d put the “people’s business” first if he’s elected.

“I have to say that we both, of course, had mustaches,” Hatch said, as some in the audience laughed. “For 46 years I liked mine, but I (shaved) it off because I was looking for differences and I think in a political campaign we have to show our differences.”

Hatch is a long-time state legislator from Des Moines who told the audience last night he first came to Iowa to attend college at Drake University, then stayed after graduation. Branstad, who is seeking his sixth term as Iowa’s governor, said in his closing statement that he “grew up poor” on a northern Iowa farm, where he learned to work hard at an early age.

A Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register “Iowa Poll” conducted last week found Branstad holding a 15-point lead over Hatch. Tonight’s debate was broadcast live on KTIV TV and KSCJ Radio and co-sponsored by the Sioux City Journal and the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce.

State tax revenue predicted to rise 4.8 percent in next fiscal year

A three member panel of experts is predicting state tax revenue will continue to rise over the next three quarters — but by slightly less than what they had predicted in March. Dave Roederer, the governor’s budget director, is one of the members of the Revenue Estimating Conference. He says the state’s ag economy is “softening” and that’s one reason for the adjustment.

“Corn prices today are 40 percent less than what they were a year ago and soybeans are down 23 percent from where they were a year ago, so we were factoring that in,” Roederer says.

State policymakers are starting to think about crafting a new state spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The tax-revenue estimators are predicting the state will collect nearly five percent more in taxes that year compared to the current year.

Democrats allege conflict of interest in contracts awarded to Ernst’s father

The Iowa Democratic Party is asking the county attorney in Red Oak to review whether Joni Ernst had an alleged conflict of interest in the $215,000 worth of county contracts awarded to her father’s company when Ernst was a county official.

Ernst is the Iowa Republican Party’s 2014 nominee for the U.S. Senate, facing Democrat Bruce Braley in one of the closest senate races in the country. Former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell — who was chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party in the late 1980s — today said according to state law, a county officer like Ernst “shall not” have a “direct or indirect interest” in a county contract.

“Iowans expect their public officials, whether they’re running for local office or the United States Senate, to do never use the power of their office to benefit themselves, their friends or their families,” Campbell said.

A spokeswoman for Ernst says the construction contracts were subject to a public competitive bidding process and it was the county supervisors who voted to award the contracts, not Ernst — plus Ernst does not have a financial stake in her father’s company. Campbell, a lawyer who served one term as Iowa’s attorney general, said by her reading of Iowa law, a county official’s “immediate family members” — including their parents — are not to get county contracts.

“Despite that I think pretty clear statement in the Iowa Code, Senator Ernst’s father, Richard Culver, received $215,000-plus dollars in county contracts for his construction company, Culver Construction,” Campbell said. “This was of course the same time his daughter was auditor.”

Last Friday, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the “American Democracy Legal Fund” asked Iowa’s current attorney general to issue an opinion as to whether Ernst had a conflict of interest when her father’s company got those contracts while she served as Montgomery County Auditor. Ernst campaign spokeswoman said Gretchen Hamel said Braley’s “liberal Washington allies” are making “frivolous” allegations to “prop up his desperate campaign.”

The state’s attorney general this week said the dispute falls under the jurisdiction of the Montgomery County Attorney. Today Iowa Democratic Party officials asked the county attorney to rule on the matter. Staff in Montgomery County Attorney Bruce Swanson’s office say he won’t be in the office until late Friday. Swanson, a Republican from Red Oak, is seeking reelection this year. He does not have a Democratic opponent.

Federal tax extensions for 2013 about to expire

There’s just a little more than one week left for those who have been putting off filing their tax returns for 2013. “If you asked for an extension of time to file this year’s tax return, the IRS just wants to remind you that time is running out to get it done. Under the law, you have until October 15th to file a tax return if you asked for an extension this year,” according to IRS spokesman, Christopher Miller.

If you haven’t filed that return yet, you are not alone. “In Iowa there are about 54,000 people who asked for an extension to file their taxes,” Millers says. “Interestingly, across the country nearly a quarter of the people who asked for an extension still have not filed their return. So, it’s a good time to remind people that time is running out.”

Miller says there’s a host of reasons people are so far behind on paying their taxes. “Often it’s simply because they don’t have the records, or the data, or the paperwork together that will support the deductions that they intend to claim,” Miller says. Miller says those who haven’t filed the returns yet are not getting away without paying what they owe.

“An extension of time to file your taxes is not an extension of time to pay your taxes. So, for folks that did request and extension, hopefully if they did owe taxes, they paid as much as they are able to so they an avoid further interest and penalties,” according to Miller. If you still need information to file your taxes, got to: www.irs.gov.


State sales tax receipts up 4.4 percent in last quarter

State tax revenue in September were nearly identical to the same month last year. Jeff Robinson of the Legislative Services Agency says overall tax collections grew by just half a percent last month.

“Personal income tax receipts were slightly negative in the month of September, so that kind of held down growth,” Robinson says.

While the state collected about $2 million less in personal income tax payments in September, Robinson says if you calculate the past quarter — adding the months of September, August and July together, personal income tax payments to the state rose nearly four-and-a-half percent. State sales taxes collections in the past three months are more than seven percent above the same quarter last year.

“It tells you that people do have money and they’re willing to spend it on things that are taxable,” Robinson says.

A three-member panel of financial experts has predicted the state will collect $6.8 billion in taxes from July 1 of this year through June 30 of next year. However, it’s possible that estimate will be reduced because it was set in March, before the unexpected drop off in state tax collections that occurred in May and June. Overall state tax collections for fiscal year 2014 — which ended on June 30 — were $6.3 billion.

Report estimates Iowa’s take in taxes if pot is legalized

A new report puts a price tag on what Iowa might reap in tax revenues every year if the state legalized marijuana. The financial website NerdWallet.com took the data from an anonymous health survey that found about 4-percent of Iowans over age 25 said they’d smoked pot in the past month.

Based on Iowa’s population, that’s about 84,000 users. From there, the report’s writers mirrored what Colorado has done and figured in a 15-percent excise tax on all marijuana sales. The final tally exceeded $24 million which the website claims Iowa could generate in taxes each year by making pot legal.

Nationwide, the figure exceeds $3 billion.


Iowa Fertilizer Plant the focus of tonight’s gubernatorial debate

The fertilizer plant under construction in southeast Iowa was a major point of contention during this evening’s debate between the two major party candidates for governor. The incumbent, Republican Terry Branstad, defended his administration’s decision to award $110 million worth of state incentives to the Egyptian company that’s building the plant near Wever.

“We’re very proud of it and the CEO of the company recently said they’re just getting warmed up,” Branstad said. “When they complete this, they’re looking at expanding it.”

Democratic challenger Jack Hatch said that’s $700,000 worth of state incentives per job and that’s a “bad deal” for taxpayers.

“The state has the responsibility to invest in our communities and our small businesses, not the big, undeserving corporations like we have,” Hatch said.

The debate was held in Burlington — about 14 miles away from the construction site in neighboring Lee County. Branstad called the development a “great deal” and, over time, Branstad said local southeast Iowa governments will reap millions.

“The net result is the Fort Madison School District and Lee County are going to get net plus of $2.9 million additional tax revenue every year and the State of Iowa is also going to gain revenue,” Branstad said. “If it hadn’t located here, we wouldn’t get those additional tax revenues.”

Hatch said rather than giving $110 million worth of incentives to one company, there would have been greater economic impact if that money had been spread out among businesses statewide.

“The top-down approach that Governor Branstad has been using, where Des Moines picks winner and losers, is the wrong approach to use when we’re recovering from a recession,” Hatch said.

The two candidates quarreled over Branstad’s job creation claims and each questioned the other’s commitment to raising the minimum wage. The conduct of the campaign was a simmering issue during Saturday’s debate as well, with Hatch complaining about Branstad’s ads that criticize Hatch’s property development business.

“Governor, I’d like to ask that you take the key from one of your political heroes, Ronald Reagan and he said…’You stop lying about me and I’ll stop telling the truth about you,'” Hatch said, to applause from his supporters in the crowd.

Branstad didn’t back down.

“If he wants to disprove our claim that he has gained substantially and made millions of dollars at the taxpayers’ expense, I would challenge Senator Hatch to release four more years of his taxes,” Branstad said. “He’s only done one. I’ve done 24. I’m willing to do another four of the previous four before I came back as governor if he’s willing to do that.”

Branstad served four years as Iowa’s lieutenant governor, then 16 years as Iowa’s governor and left office in January of 1999. In 2010 he won a fifth term as governor. The political culture of Illinois was cited during Saturday’s hour-long debate. Hatch listed a number of controversies that have popped up over the last four years, including Branstad’s order to close the Iowa Juvenile Home and the disclosure that some state employees were being paid extra to stay quiet about their exit settlements with the state.

“This is the kind of leadership you’d expect from the governor of Illinois, not the governor of Iowa,” Hatch said.

Branstad responded.

“This is Iowa, not Illinois. Most of the former governors of Illinois are in prison. I’m back in office ’cause the people of Iowa trust me,” Branstad said, drawing applause from his supporters in the room. “They know me. They can rely on me.”

Tonight’s debate was sponsored by the Greater Burlington Partnership — an alliance of local chambers of commerce and by the Burlington Hawk Eye and WQAD television. The third and final debate between Branstad and Hatch will be held in Sioux City on October 20.