Category Archives: View Point
By Dawn Pettengill
I believe every day working at the Capitol is a blessing and a big responsibility. That’s why I do my best to make votes based on facts — by getting your input and doing my research.
One that is turning into a real killer decision is the fuel tax vote coming up. The last time the fuel tax was increased was in the late 80s. In 2006, a comprehensive study was done on road/bridge infrastructure needs. We were short of meeting those needs by about $220 million dollars a year. At that time, I made a commitment to support an increase in the fuel tax and have said so every year.
Nearly ten years later, we still haven’t increased the fuel tax and our lack of money for maintenance is showing. Cities and counties are borrowing money to fix roads when they should be able to count on money from the Road Use Tax Fund. Every penny of gas tax generates around $22 million for the Road Use Tax Fund, which is a Constitutionally protected fund reserved solely for roads and bridges.
Two years ago, the Governor told the DOT to find efficiencies. They did, reducing spending by $50 million. The dollars saved went to road repairs. We know there are more ways to find savings, but they don’t come close to $220 million a year.
After reaching out to my constituents, I received input on both sides of a fuel tax increase. Nobody wants to pay more, but some can see it is needed. Nobody wants to vote for it either, but some see the need. It is my job to make these decisions and I was supporting it. Like so many things in Des Moines, a couple of Democrats, Republicans and the Governor came together to see what everyone can agree on. When we got the bill last week from that select group, the bill has some “deals” in it that I’m not sure I can vote for.
The bill is supposed to be a money raiser for the Road Use Tax Fund, with a 10 cent fuel tax increase, $220 million. But included in that bill are a couple of decreases. One is a ten year ethanol differential that reduces the Road Use Tax Fund about $7.5 million a year. Okay, we are raising $220 million a year and then we give ethanol $7.5 million of it in the same bill? I support ethanol and have voted yes on this every year. But c’mon, let ethanol stand on its own. Also added was the same thing for biodiesel, only three cents a gallon instead of the two cents for ethanol. Again, these are supports for our Iowa economy, but it makes it harder to vote for the bill…adding to the cost of gas to fix roads and then cutting breaks in the same bill.
A few other things were added and I’m not as committed as I was before, but will do my best to keep you taxpayers at the desk with me when I make the final vote. I know one thing for sure. The fuel tax is the cheapest hit to your wallet and it hits harder the people who drive more, like me. That’s the way it should be. I don’t want people who drive to church once a week paying higher registration fees again. Stay tuned.
Also, hopefully this week we will finish out the supplemental state aid debate and get it to the Governor. We sent our bill over to the Senate three weeks ago and finally got their response late last week. Stay tuned there too.
If you have any concerns or questions, give me a call at 515-281-6879 or send an email to email@example.com. I’m here for you!
Iowa Senate – Steve Sodders:
Committee work on bills is in full swing. The committees and appropriations sub-committees are not only moving bills, but they are also hearing updates from the various departments and organizations they fund. For example, we had a three hour marathon Appropriations meeting, where we heard from the Board of Regents on funding for the three state universities. Discussed was the new formula for distributing the funds between the three universities that is based partly on the number of Iowa students they are serving.
In the Public Safety meeting, we heard from the Criminal Investigation Crime Lab on Synthetic Cannabinoids. These drugs are complex chemical formulations that are sprayed on plant matter and smoked under the premise that it is synthetic marijuana. These drugs can be hundreds of times more potent than herbal marijuana and are extremely dangerous. The producers change the formulas rapidly to avoid the law and sell these drugs legally in gas stations and other shops around the state.
Iowa House – Dawn Pettengill:
What’s happening in the statehouse? Conservation wants us to increase the sales tax another penny. That would take us up to 8 cents on the dollar when you count the school and local penny and 3/8 of that cent would go to Conservation. The House voted to give K-12 education another $80 per pupil, which is another $100 million, but they wanted $240 million. Plus, we have big infrastructure needs and are trying to figure out how to get $210 million more a year of ongoing money into the Road Use Tax Fund.
Almost every conversation involves someone needing money, but the elephant in the room nobody is talking about — the looming dollar increase needed to completely fund Medicaid. In 2011, the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) was 63.51%. For every dollar spent, the federal government paid $ .6351. The FMAP has decreased every year and the state has picked up more of the cost each of those years. With 54.91% as the 2016 FMAP, we are expecting to need an additional $150 million over last year to fund it completely for a total of $1,574,569,144. Every budget impacts Iowans, but this one hits the most vulnerable people and there are no busses full of poor people coming to the Capitol to lobby us. We just know we have to take care of them.
Keep Iowa Beautiful (KIB) is announcing the deadlines and information for the 2015 grant programs. “This is an opportunity for community groups and organizations to apply for funds, paint and tools to help with beautification and clean-up projects,” said Gerry Schnepf, Executive Director of KIB. “These grants help build stronger communities by improving the economic vitality and cultural climate of our Iowa communities.”
PAINT IOWA BEAUTIFUL This is the 12th year Diamond Vogel Paint has awarded over 7,000 gallons of paint to Iowa communities. Application process is simple with a letter outlining the project. Details to include in the letter, along with additional information can be found at keepiowabeautiful.com/grants/paint-iowa-beautiful Deadline to apply is February 20, 2015.
YO-HO TOOLS FOR A MORE BEAUTIFUL IOWA This is the second year for KIB to partner with Iowa tool manufacturer Yeoman & Company in Monticello. The grants are for $200 worth of YO-HO Quality Tools to assist community volunteers in beautification and clean up projects. Details on what to include in the application letter, and additional grant information, can be found at keepiowabeautiful.com/grants/yo-ho-tool-grant Deadline to apply is March 6, 2015.
BEAUTIFICATION GRANTS This is the fifth year of a partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the funding of $80,000 for communities of under 5,000. This program has provided a boost for community beautification and enhancement in over 70 communities. Additional information and grant application are at keepiowabeautiful.com/grants/beautification-grant
Deadline is March 20, 2015.
Soybean Association: Water Quality Top Legislative Priority
“Water quality is at the forefront of our minds and we support proposed funding that will enable farmers to implement practices and carry out environmentally conscious efforts,” said Wayne Fredericks, Iowa Soybean Assocation (ISA) president-elect and public affairs committee chairman. “It’s also time to work on new fuel tax alternatives that could fund the maintenance of our bridges and roads.”
Fredericks noted that ISA is working with other commodity groups and organizations to generate ideas for securing funding for transportation infrastructure initiatives. The timing seems right because Governor Branstad has indicated he will support legislation to increase funding for Iowa’s road and bridge maintenance.
“As shown by recent revenues, agriculture is clearly an economic driver for Iowa,” said Fredericks who farms near Osage. “Investments in research and infrastructure are vital to keeping agriculture strong, even during a period of lower grain prices. ISA will continue to support strategic investments in agricultural infrastructure.”
Improving environmental performance also remains a priority for the ISA. Fredericks said the extensive on-farm and environmental databases that ISA maintains is a valuable resource for farmers and legislators as they study the issue and identify practices that have a quantifiable impact on water quality.
“We concentrate on providing information for legislators,” said Carol Balvanz, ISA policy director. “We plan to participate heavily in the negotiations surrounding both road funding and funding for continuing Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”
Other ISA policy priorities include:
Disseminating information generated by the Soy Transportation Coalition to pursue a state bridge evaluation study to determine whether rural bridge embargoes have been correctly assessed. By using instrumentation to physically assess bridge strength, Iowa may be able to reduce the number of bridges that need replacement and repair across the state.
Encouraging legislation that would implement a state income tax credit for farmers who spend their own money on water quality and soil-saving efforts.
Working with the Ag Appropriations committee to obtain approval for the Integrated Farm and Livestock Management (IFLM) program which will be leveraged with checkoff and industry dollars to provide more research of benefits to farmers and the state as a whole.
Supporting funding for the ISU Ag Experiment Station and ISU Extension.
By State Senator Steven Sodders
2015 Legislative Session Should Help Iowa’s Middle Class
The 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature began on Monday, January 12. State Senator Steve Sodders of State Center says his top priority is helping improve the incomes of working and middle class families by focusing on education and job training.
“The recovery from the Great Recession is uneven,” Sodders said. “Wall Street is celebrating while Iowa’s middle class is struggling due to stagnating wages, slow job growth and the gap between the skills workers have and the skills employers need. For Iowa communities and businesses to fully recover, we need Iowa’s middle class to grow and expand.”
Sodders pointed out a number of measures that would make Iowa families more financially secure: expanding workforce training programs at community colleges, fighting wage theft to make sure workers are paid for their work, continuing the tuition freeze at Iowa’s state universities, and giving Iowa companies the first crack at state contracts.
“The current makeup of Iowa’s state government means ideas need support from both Republicans and Democrats to become law,” Sodders said. “That’s why I’ll focus on proposals with broad public support. I think we can all agree we need more good jobs, great schools, affordable child care, health care, and housing, and to be able to retire with dignity.”
Sodders said one area of disagreement during the 2015 session could be state support for local students. “During the last several years, Republicans have broken state law and used local school funding as a bargaining chip. This has hurt our local schools. It is an outrage that Iowa has fallen to 37th in the nation in per student funding,” Sodders said. “Great local schools help our communities attract new businesses and new residents. When it comes to support for our local schools, we need to return to the pro-education approach that built our state.”
Senator Sodders is the Senate President Pro Tempore and also serves as Chair of the Judiciary Committee and the Vice Chair of the Economic Growth Committee. In addition, he is a member of the Agriculture, Commerce, Labor and Business Relations, Rules, and Veterans Committees.
Senator Sodders represents Senate District 36. It includes Marshall County, Tama County and part of Black Hawk County.
“I count on the people from the district to help me do my job by sharing their thoughts and concerns with me. You can contact me directly at (641) 751-4140, or my official email address: Steve.Sodders@legis.iowa.gov and to receive my weekly email newsletter, sign up at www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/Sodders.”