Owners of a race track proposed near Newton would get a 12-and-a-half million dollar payback from the state once the track’s up and running under legislation that cleared the Iowa House today. Representative Danny Carroll, a Republican from Grinnell, got the laughter he was aiming for as he made a final pitch for the bill.”I’ve always wanted to say this: vroom vroom,” Carroll said in reference to a car commercial that features a boy saying those words. The bill that cleared the House would give the race track owners a rebate on state sales taxes collected inside the facility or from ticket sales. “Auto racing is one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the country,” Carroll says. “It is second only to the National Football League in ratings on television.” Carroll says track proponents tell him up to 40 percent of the people at races would come from another state. Carroll says tourism is not often one of the reasons people come to Iowa because there aren’t a lot of tourist venues here — and this track is an opportunity to change that, according to Carroll, Representative Paul Bell, a Democrat from Newton, says the 72-and-a-half million dollar track complex would employ 35 year-round and about five-hundred would be working at the track on race weekends. “We’ve had some misfortunes lately with losing some jobs and this would be a great shot in the arm for the City of Newton and Jasper County,” Bell says. The bill passed on an 80 to 18 vote. Representative Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was a no. “Maybe it could be built the old-fashioned way where investors invest without looking for government assistance,” Hogg said. Hogg also said there’s no guarantee the project won’t create a bunch of “low wage jobs without benefits.” Representative Ralph Watts, a Republican from Adel, is not a fan of the sales tax rebate for the track’s owners. “I can get (as) excited as anyone about the possibility of having a race track in central Iowa…my concern about this is the method of financing,” Watt says. Representative Ed Fallon, a Democrat from Des Moines, says the bill raised some “red flags” for him. “I don’t think this is any way to run a state,” Fallon says. “I don’t think it’s fair to other sales tax payers, and that could be all of us.” A similar bill with a 12-and-a-half million dollar sales tax rebate for the Newton track has cleared a Senate Committee, but not the full Senate. House leaders say they will form a committee to review the sales tax break outlined in the bill, and whether it might be applied to other projects. Governor Tom Vilsack was asked by reporters about the bill today, but he gave no indication whether he backs it or opposes it.
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