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.

Branstad wants to ensure ‘Home Base’ program working before proposing expansion (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad says he may unveil more proposals to benefit veterans in the coming months, but he first wants to ensure a new law that took effect this year is working effectively.

Branstad made his comments this morning at an event touting the “veterans coalition” that is supporting his bid for reelection this November.

“I am really proud to say that Iowa has become a lot more veteran friendly,” Branstad said.

The “Home Base Iowa” bill Branstad signed into law on Memorial Day eliminated state income taxes on military pensions, plus the new law calls for state licensing boards to give veterans credit for the skills they acquired in the military. Branstad said he wants to ensure veterans do not have to take courses with content they mastered during their military service if they’re enrolled at an Iowa community college or one of the state-funded universities.

“We want to make sure that veterans are getting credit for their military education and training at our colleges and universities,” Branstad said.

State Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa who is a retired Marine brigadier general, said Branstad recognizes “the value” of bringing retired soldiers back to Iowa.

“When we don’t have any bases or any hospitals to welcome them home, it’s important that we have some other incentives to bring them back here,” Vander Linden said during today’s news conference. “We’re talking about many people who are 40 years of age or younger even, with young families who want to come back to Iowa and bring their skills with them.”

Vander Linden’s name is on the list of more than 250 Iowa veterans who’ve signed onto the “Veterans for Branstad” group. Vander Linden and Branstad spoke today at a news conference staged beside the “Soldiers and Sailors” monument on the Iowa capitol grounds.

AUDIO of news conference, 28:00

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.

Governor says IWD team will help Cherokee Tyson workers

Governor Terry Branstad says the state is responding after learning of Tyson’s decision to close its plant in Cherokee. “Workforce Development will send a team up there to work with the community. Obviously this is a disappointment, as I understand it, this is a chicken processing facility owned by Tyson and one of three they are closing throughout the nation,” Branstad says.

The plant employees 450 people and will close on September 27th. “We want to do all we can to try and help the workers who are gonna be displaced and to try to help the community to try to find new employment opportunities for them,” Branstad says.

He says Workforce Development has a variety of options for those who will lose their jobs. “Looking at retraining and other placement opportunities,” Branstad says, “but also, Economic Development will be actively marketing looking for businesses to replace the one that’s being lost.”

A prepared statement released by Tyson says the Cherokee plant is being closed along with one in New York and another in New Mexico. The statement said the plans “have been struggling financially” and “it no longer makes business sense to keep them open.”


Report finds success in first 3 years of STEM initiative

Boone Science teacher Shelly Vanyo talks about STEM with Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

Boone Science teacher Shelly Vanyo talks about STEM with Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds say a review of the STEM initiative shows the program has been successful in its first three years.

Reynolds is the co-chair for the STEM advisory council, which is working with groups across the state to increase interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

She says the review found several positive results. “For example,students who participated in the first year of the STEM scale-up programs reported more interest in STEM topics as well as STEM careers,” Reynolds says. “A small gender gap between male and female participation in scale-up has been narrowed from year one to year two, and that’s meeting one of our main objectives.

Reynolds says there are other indicators of success is that participation among minority students matches their share of Iowa’s school-aged population. “Awareness of the acronym STEM among adults has increased by 58 percent from 2012 to 2013,” according to Reynolds. “And in case we were not sure if any of this mattered to the average Iowan, I am proud to report that 98 percent of those adults surveyed agreed that advances in STEM will provide more opportunities to adults in the next generation.”

Shelly Vanyo

Shelly Vanyo

Boone High School science teacher Shelly Vanyo joined the governor and lieutenant governor to talk about her work with STEM. Vanyo says one of the first things she focused on was renewable energy. “It’s often viewed by students when I surveyed them as ‘oh my gosh it’s just something else that I have to memorize that doesn’t make sense to me.’ Because of that, one of the first scale-ups that I selected to participate in was Kid Wind. Because wind energy is prominent in Iowa, but I found even living in an area where we have wind turbines surrounding us, my students knew nothing about it,” Vanyo says.

She says the students took quickly to the program. “My classroom flourished and became a busy, problem-solving collaborative environment, where many ideas were explored at one time,” Sanyo says. “There was not one right answer that was brought to the forefront. Every student offered their own idea and their own ways to solve the problems that we face as global citizens.”

Vanyo says the process was contagious. “Learning was truly student led. I found that I had students who were not even a part of my class who would walk by and give their time during a study hall or lunch period to join the learning that was going on in my classroom,” Vanyo says. The report found over 3,000 classrooms and clubs involving more than 100,000 students were involved in STEM from 2013 to 2014.

Governor Branstad says it is a program that everyone has recognized is important, including legislators. “This is an issue that’s gotten broad-based bipartisan support every session and we’ve gotten the funding we’ve requested. And we’ve also gotten match. We’ve gotten great private sector match (of funding) as well,” Branstad says.

You can read the full report on the program at the STEM Advisory Council website at: www.iowastem.gov.

the area to see if they have a missing persons report that might match the victim.

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.

Maryland Governor O’Malley campaigns with Democrats in eastern & western Iowa

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley returned to Iowa this weekend to campaign with Iowa Democrats, building more ties with Iowa activists who could be key contacts if O’Malley decides to run for president in 2016.

“It’s something that I’m seriously considering, but I’m here to campaign for Jack Hatch and for the other good Democrats here in Iowa,” O’Malley told Radio Iowa during an interview today. “…I hope to come back and do more.”

Just over three decades ago, O’Malley worked in eastern Iowa as an organizer for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign.

“I got out there around Christmas time and Scott County had yet to be organized, so Scott County was my primary area of responsibility,” O’Malley said.

On Saturday, O’Malley was just north of Scott County, in Clinton, to headline a fundraiser for a state senator, then he went to North Liberty to help another Democratic candidate for the state senate. On Sunday, O’Malley was in western Iowa where he headlined two private fundraisers for Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, then he and Hatch spoke to Iowa Democratic Party volunteers headed out to go door-to-door in Sioux City to register voters. Despite recent world events, O’Malley said he senses the “primary anxiety” among most voters all across the country is the economy.

“And while we’ve done some good things as a country to avoid going over the fiscal cliff or sliding into a second Great Depression or having our financial markets totally collapse, the truth of the matter is there’s still a lot of anxiety throughout the country and in every state about whether or not our children will be able to live better lives than we have lived,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley is a two-term governor who cannot seek reelection due to Maryland’s term limits. During a Friday afternoon conference call with reporters, Iowa Republican Party chairman Jeff Kaufmann called O’Malley one of the “most liberal, eastern elite” governors in the country.

“Governor O’Malley is out of the mainstream,” Kaufmann said.

And Bill Dix, the Republican leader in the state senate who also participated in the telephone news conference, suggested the Iowa Democratic candidates who’ve campaigned alongside O’Malley this weekend are tainted.

“Looking at Governor O’Malley’s record, clearly they have a different solution,” Dix said. “It’s big government.”

Dix suggests O’Malley is a classic “tax and spend” liberal. O’Malley calls himself a progressive.

“No state that I’m aware of has ever cut its way to prosperity,” O’Malley said. “We need to be fiscally disciplined, but you also have to be smart enough to make investments to bring about that better future that I think everybody hopes for.”

Hatch called O’Malley a “practical” governor.

“I don’t have any problems campaigning with a governor that has lifted his state for the past five years as the number one state in public education,” Hatch said today.

High school students in Maryland must pass a test in order to graduate, for example, and the tests for the Class of 2015 will be tougher. O’Malley, who hinted he’ll be back in Iowa before November’s election, headlined the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention in June and he served as the headliner at Senator Tom Harkin’s annual Steak Fry fundraiser in 2012.