March 3, 2015

Governor talked to federal officials about National Guard, RFS

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad talked about his trip to the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, D.C. during his weekly news conference today. Branstad says one big issue is the funding of the National Guard.

“Even though the administration is asking for a budget that would be $38 billion more than the sequestration level for the Pentagon, they still cut the National Guard and eliminate the Apache helicopters from the guard — despite the fact that last year an agreement was worked out to have a commission that would review the Army’s recommendation,” Branstad says.

He says the governors all signed on to a letter to the president that expresses their concerns about guard funding. Branstad says they were also able to talk with federal military officials in person. “And we did have a very frank discussion with the Pentagon about that issue,” according to Branstad.

Branstad was also able to talk with the head of the EPA during the conference about the impact on agriculture from the delay in setting the amount of ethanol that is required to be used in gasoline.

“We expressed concerns about the lack of action on the Renewable Fuel Standard, and now the U.S.D.A. is estimating that farm income — which was down in 2014 — will drop 33-percent in 2015,” Branstad says. “And this is something that is of grave concern to us.” Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey joined Branstad and they had a personal meeting with the EPA Secretary.

“The word is, although she did not say it directly in my meeting, that we are going to see the R-F-S rule next spring. But we’ve heard that before,” Branstad says. Branstad says the EPA secretary mostly listened and did not do a lot of talking with the governors during their meeting. Governor Branstad says he also got to visit with officials from several countries that are key trading partners during that meeting in Washington.

 

Branstad approves gas tax hike; 10-cent-per-gallon increase takes effect Sunday

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

The price for gas in Iowa will go up at least 10 cents a gallon Sunday morning. Governor Terry Branstad has approved the bill increasing the state’s gas tax by a dime a gallon.

“This is a bill that’s been developed with both the Republicans and Democrats working together,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “I know it’s not easy and I know that there are also people who feel strongly on the other side, but there is a critical need for additional funding for our roads and bridges in the state of Iowa.”

Since the beginning of the year Branstad met personally with legislative leaders at least five times to discuss options for dealing with a $215 million shortfall in meeting the critical needs of Iowa’s transportation infrastructure. The outcome of those meetings was the bill that cleared the Iowa Senate, then the House on Tuesday in a span of less than two-and-a-half hours.

“Leadership deserves credit for working together on a bipartisan basis to pass a piece of legislation that I think will be very beneficial to meeting the needs of the counties and cities as well as the state transportation network,” Branstad said at about nine o’clock, around the time a formal copy of the bill was delivered to his desk.

Branstad’s staff announced at 11 a.m. this morning that the governor had signed the bill.

Critics like Senator Brad Zaun say the greatest needs are in rural Iowa, but only a third of the extra money that will be raised will go to rural roads and bridges.

“To say to rural Iowa that this 10 cent increase is going to fix your bridges and roads is just simply not true,” Zaun said during Senate debate Tuesday.

Others, like Representative Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, argue the financial impact will be felt most by the “poorest of the poor” who often drive long distances to work at low-paying jobs.

“The gas tax is one of the most regressive taxes that the state imposes,” Gaskill said during House debate Tuesday.

Motorists who fill up with 10 gallons of gas on Sunday morning will pay a dollar more for a tank of gas than they would have paid Saturday night. Branstad said having the tax hike go into effect March 1 means the state will collect more fuel taxes than expected in the last four months of the state fiscal year — and the starting date for some road and bridge projects may be moved up.

“Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up,” Branstad said, “and this is a way that hopefully that and other key projects can get priority and be expedited.”

The project to expand all 300 miles of the Highway 20 route from Dubuque and Sioux City into a divided four-lane highway began 50 years ago. Branstad told reporters this morning that he’s recently talked with the Iowa DOT’s director about speeding up the Highway 20 project. DOT plans currently call for completing a 12-mile stretch between Moville and Correctionville in 2018. The final segment of 29 miles that hasn’t been scheduled yet for expansion is in Sac and Ida Counties. That stretch of Highway 20 is a link between Iowa Highway 31 and U.S. Highway 71.

Branstad ‘very likely’ to approve gas tax hike this week

Governor Branstad talks to reporters in his formal statehouse office.

Governor Branstad talks to reporters in his formal statehouse office.

Governor Terry Branstad says unless there is a glaring technical error, he intends to approve the bill that would raise the state gas tax by a dime a gallon on Sunday.

“It is very likely I’m going to sign it and you’ll know very soon,” Branstad told reporters this morning.

That’s because once an Iowa governor receives the formal copy of a bill, he or she must sign or veto it within the following three days.

“I do intend to sign it this week,” Branstad said.

Branstad got the formal copy of the gas tax bill this morning, shortly after nine o’clock, so he has a Saturday deadline for action. Branstad said he has a responsibility as governor to carefully review the final copy, but he doesn’t expect to find a problem that would prevent him from signing the bill into law.

“What’s in this bill is not a surprise because we have worked and looked at all the different options and worked with the legislative leaders as they developed this,” Branstad said, “and then worked through the committee processes in the House and Senate.”

In a span of less than two-and-a-half hours the bill cleared both the House and the Senate yesterday with bipartisan support.

“This is a great example, on a difficult and controversial issue, of the kind of bipartisan cooperation that really makes Iowa stand out as a state where we work together and we get things done,” Branstad said this morning.

Critics of the gas tax hike say Iowa retailers will now be selling the most expensive fuel in the region. Many legislators who opposed the bill said they agree there’s a need for more money to fix Iowa’s transportation system, but they favored cutting other areas of the state budget and diverting that money to road and bridge projects.

Gas tax hike at Iowa pumps likely this Sunday

gas-pump-4The state’s gas tax likely is going up March 1.

Within the span of two-and-a-half hours, votes were taken in both the Iowa House and Senate yesterday to pass a bill that would raise the tax by a dime a gallon. (See how your Senator voted here; see how your Representative voted here.)

Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa who was a main backer of the bill, said a lack of transportation funding is “huge problem” for Iowa.

“Iowa roads and bridges are in pretty rough shape,” Bowman said. “…The neglect puts Iowa families in danger every time they drive and it makes businesses hesitant to locate or expand in our state.”

Representative Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, voted no and accused supporters of adopting “a Washington, D.C. philosophy.”

“If you truly believe, as I do, that the state has a spending problem, I do not know how we can then look out taxpayers in the face and say. ‘But we’ve got to rasie your gas tax by 45.5 percent,'” Holt said.

Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, said her constituents in southern Iowa travel long distances and oppose paying more for gas.

“People in my district have to plan when to buy milk, so they don’t have to make a special trip back to HyVee to get it,” Sinclair said.

Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, said he voted for the bill, in large part, because he represents Rock Rapids where roads were devastated by flood waters in 2014.

“So I’m not going to go back to Lyon County and say I couldn’t do anything,” Johnson said. “I can’t.”

Representative Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars, said the magnitude of the increase was the reason he voted no.

“To go from the 15th cheapest state fuel wise to the 13th most expensive with one bill should be a wake-up call for everybody,” Soderberg said.

Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage who has been a key advocate for raising the gas tax, was the last legislator to speak during yesterday’s debate.

“We represent 30,000 people at these chairs. I understand that,” Byrnes said. “I also represent 30,000 at this desk and, in my district, this is something that my constituents want.”

Byrnes said it’s time to raise the state fuel tax to get more money for Iowa’s “aging” transportation system. Governor Terry Branstad has three days to make a decision on the bill. If, as expected, he signs it into law, the increase would go into effect March 1.

There are 150 legislators serving in the Iowa House and Senate. Forty-two Republicans and 39 Democrats voted for the gas tax increase. In the Senate, it was a coalition of 16 Democrats and 12 Republicans who passed the bill. In the House, there were 42 Republicans and 39 Democrats who voted for it.

Supreme Court hears arguments over closing of Toledo Juvenile Home

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Attorneys in a lawsuit over the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home for Girls in Toledo presented oral arguments Tuesday before the Iowa Supreme Court.

The president of the state’s largest public employees union and four Democratic lawmakers sued Governor Terry Branstad for closing the home when the legislature had appropriated money for it to operate.

The governor is appealing a district court order granting a preliminary injunction to re-open the home. Justice David Wiggins asks Mark Hedberg, attorney for the Democrats, what his clients hope to achieve with their suit now that the home is closed. “What does that get you? Tell me what it gets you for your client’s relief?,” Wiggins says. “What it gets me is this, an understanding in real time what the executive can or can’t do next,” Hedberg answered.

Justice Wiggins had this question for Jeffrey Thompson who is representing the governor. “This seems to be an argument between the governor and legislature about spending and appropriations, why should the courts get in the middle of it,” Wiggins says. “Well in this case, I don’t know that it should,” Thompson says. The justices will rule in 90 days on whether a district court should have granted an injunction to re-open the home.

An attorney for the Democrats agrees the home is not likely to re-open, but says he hopes to clarify what the governor can and cannot do when it comes to closing state facilities.

On 53-46 vote, Iowa House approves increase in state gas tax

Greg Heartsill

Greg Heartsill

The state’s gas tax is likely going up soon. Early this afternoon the Iowa Senate passed a bill that would raise the tax by a dime a gallon then, shortly before two o’clock, the House passed the same bill on a 53-46 vote.

Representative Greg Heartsill, a Republican from Columbia, suggested there was something “suspiciously wrong” with the speed by which the bill passed the legislature and he openly criticized the top Republican in the legislature — House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.

“Because of the way this bill was rammed through, there is now an odiferous cloud that hangs over the legislature that will linger long after this vote. Whose best interests are being served by this legislation?” Hartsill said. “Certainly not those who are paying the bills.”

Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, was an unapologetic supporter of the legislation.

“I honestly feel that we’re doing the right thing today,” Byrnes said shortly before the votes were cast. “This bill is in no way a bill for the lobby. This is in no way a bill for a group. It’s in no way a bill for a party. I honestly feel that this is a bill for Iowans.”

Earlier this month Governor Branstad said he thought “the timing was right” for a gas tax increase.

“The governor will carefully review the bill in its final form before announcing a final decision,”  Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said today.

The governor has three days to make that call once a formal copy of the bill reaches his desk. Legislative staff say the “enrolled” bill should reach Branstad’s desk either this evening or tomorrow morning.

How did your representative vote?

The following REPRESENTATIVES voted YES
Abdul-Samad
Anderson
Bacon
Baudler
Berry
Best
Branhagen
Byrnes
Carlson
Cohoon
Deyoe
Dolecheck
Drake
Forbes
Forristall
Gassman
Hanusa
Heaton
Heddens
Hein
Hunter
Huseman
Jacoby
Jones
Kaufmann
Kearns
Lensing
Lykam
Mascher
Maxwell
Meyer
Miller, Helen
Miller, Linda
Mommsen
Moore
Oldson
Olson
Paulsen
Pettengill
Sexton
Sieck
Smith
Stanerson
Steckman
Stutsman
Taylor, Todd
Upmeyer
Wessel-Kroeschell
Wills
Winckler
Windschitl
Wolfe
Worthan

The following REPRESENTATIVES voted NO
Baxter
Bearinger
Bennett
Brown-Powers
Cownie
Dawson
Dunkel
Finkenauer
Fisher
Fry
Gaines
Gaskill
Grassley
Gustafson
Hagenow
Hall
Hanson
Heartsill
Highfill
Holt
Isenhart
Jorgensen
Kelley
Klein
Koester
Kooiker
Kressig
Landon
McConkey
Nunn
Ourth
Paustian
Pritchard
Rizer
Rogers
Ruff
Running-Marquardt
Salmon
Sands
Sheets
Soderberg
Staed
Taylor, Rob
Thede
Vander Linden
Watts

The only House member who did not vote was Representative Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone. “I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote,” Baltimore told reporters this afternoon.

(This post was updated at 2:50 p.m. with additional information.)

Senate, on 28-21 vote, passes bill to increase state gas tax

Tod Bowman

Tod Bowman

The Iowa Senate has approved a bill that would raise the state’s gas tax by 10 cents per gallon. The vote was 28-21 and soon after the bill passed the Senate at about 12:30 p.m. today, the Iowa House started debating the measure about 15 minutes later.

Iowa roads and bridges “are in pretty rough shape,” according to Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa — the bill’s floor manager in the Senate.

“By working together we solve a huge problem for Iowa and strengthen Iowa’s economy for the years to come,” Bowman said.

The bill passed the senate with the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

“Now it’s time to say yes or no,” said Senator Tim Kapucian, a Republican from Keystone who voted for the bill. “Now’s the time to decide.”

Senators who spoke against the bill said they agree there’s a need for more money to repair Iowa’s roads and bridges, but they said raising the gas tax wasn’t the answer.

How did your senator vote?

The following Senator voted Yes:
Anderson
Bertrand
Bolkcom
Bowman
Breitbach
Costello
Danielson
Dearden
Dix
Dotzler
Dvorsky
Gronstal
Hart
Hogg
Horn
Jochum
Johnson
Kapucian
Kinney
Kraayenbrink
McCoy
Petersen
Quirmbach
Ragan
Rozenboom
Segebart
Shipley
Zumbach

The following Senators voted No:
Allen
Behn
Bisignano
Brase
Chapman
Courtney
Feenstra
Garrett
Guth
Mathis
Schneider
Schoenjahn
Schultz
Seng
Sinclair
Smith
Sodders
Taylor
Whitver
Wilhelm
Zaun

The only senator who did not vote was Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa.

(This post was updated at 2:54 p.m. with additional information.)