Senator Randy Feenstra: Pork Spending Continues

Each year, the last week of session sees pork spending bills get passed and it always frustrates me because I don’t support this type of tax payer spending and it always goes to Des Moines and a few other larger cities. Below is some of the egregious spending that was approved.

  • $250,000 for renovating an old bank building downtown Des Moines
  • $7.8 million for walking / biking trail projects in Cedar Rapids and Bellevue
  • $1,000,000 for a parking lot at a Des Moines Baseball Stadium
  • $150,000 for a transit study in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City
  • $500,000 for a walking trail bridge in Des Moines

 

Senator Whitver: Iowa’s Reserve Accounts Strong

The tremendous turnaround in the financial strength of Iowa has been well documented over the past few years. A huge budget shortfall in 2011 turned into a huge surplus through three years of sound budgeting principles and tough decisions.

Currently, Iowa has approximately $697 million in our ending balance. Some people refer to this as a “surplus,” but I view it more like a savings account. This is not money that we have leftover each year; rather, it is accumulated over the last three years cumulatively.

 There are several different options I feel are best when discussing what to do with this $697 million. One option is to return it to Iowa taxpayers, something I’ve voted to do several times. A second viable option is to use the money to pay down some of Iowa’s debt. Last year, we paid off over $100 million of state debt, primarily from Governor Culver’s I-Jobs program and state debt from the Honey Creek resort in southern Iowa. By paying down this debt, we are able to save millions of dollars in interest.

The third option I like is to save the money for a rainy day, an option I find very popular among constituents I’ve spoken with. The state currently has two reserve accounts per the state code. We have the cash reserve account, which by law must contain 7.5% of our state budget, currently approximately $523 million. We also have an economic emergency account, which must contain 2.5% of our state budget, or about $174 million. In total, Iowa keeps 10% of its state budget in reserve accounts. These accounts are extremely important to ensure that the state is able to meet its financial commitments during tough economic times and other unforeseen struggles.

After many discussions with constituents who favor saving this money for our “rainy day” fund, I began researching how our reserve accounts compare with other states. Alaska, Wyoming and West Virginia ranked as the top three, but I found that Iowa’s reserves rank eighth in the nation.

 The turnaround over the last three years has been dramatic, and it is thanks to tough decisions made by the legislature. Having extra money in our reserves helps strengthen our economic outlook, and I am very encouraged by the progress that has been made.

Senator Anderson: Senate could address gift certificate changes

The Senate is considering a bill relating to gift certificates. Currently, gift certificates that go unredeemed for three years are treated as “unclaimed property.”  The issuer must report it to the state treasurer’s office, attempt to contact the owner and then surrender it to the treasurer.

The bill was amended during the committee process and would extend to five years the period required for any gift certificate to be subject to abandonment procedures, including reporting to the State Treasurer’s office.  It would also exempt from abandonment any merchandise-only gift certificate that does not contain an expiration date or a provision for the deduction of service fees with the lapse of time.  A gift certificate of that kind would continue in effect and be redeemable indefinitely.

Business owners recognize gift certificates as a useful retailing device, but the current reporting and abandonment rules impose burdens on retailers unwarranted by the dollar value of the gift certificates in question.  This is especially the case for small retailers. Eliminating the abandonment rule is a balanced way to alleviate the burden because it would allow indefinite redemption by a customer.

What other states are doing with gift cards/certificates: South Dakota – law was recently changed that retailers no longer pay unclaimed funds to the state as gift cards do not expire. Nebraska – if the gift certificate does not have a fee or expiration date there is no requirement to submit unclaimed funds to state. Minnesota – gift cards do not expire, no requirement to submit unclaimed funds to state.

Senator Guth: We must keep our fiscal house in order

The 2014 Legislative session is winding down, but there are several key issues to discuss before adjourning. One of those is voting on the individual budget bills. Several weeks ago, the House and Senate offered joint budget targets. The proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget is an increase of 7.4 percent over the FY2014 budget, more than double the historic revenue growth of 3.6 percent. I find that kind of increase very troubling.

The Administration and Regulations subcommittee, where I am Senate ranking member, should have voted on our budget this week. The joint leadership had agreed to a status quo budget prior to our last meeting. In that final meeting, Democrats decided they wanted to spend some Iowa tax dollars on a Federal program to help low income families with home heating costs. Perhaps it makes some people feel good, but it certainly was not part of our budget thought process. This prompted the House members to declare this was not the agreed on in the budget and they adjourned. The Senate half of the committee then dropped that amendment since they knew it had no chance of passing in the House. Since that time, Democrats have offered various amendments that spend a little more here and a little more there. One such amendment would give $50,000 to the Public Information Board for furniture and printing costs. The Public Information Board consists of 2 attorneys and a secretary. Fifty thousand dollars seems a bit much for desks and computers for 3 people.  This kind of game-playing just prolongs the process.

As we work our way through a number of minor bills during the final weeks, it becomes very apparent that some legislators desire government oversight in more and more areas of our lives. I maintain in most cases the government that governs least governs best. The complicated bullying bill we passed out of the Senate over a week ago could have been easily replaced with the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Teaching it from the Book it comes from would go a long ways toward making our world more responsible and kind.

I am in complete agreement with Ronald Reagan when he said, “I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.” It’s great to visit with many of you this week and a privilege to serve District 4. Feel free to contact me at dennis.guth@legis.iowa.gov or call me at 641-430-0424. Be sure to catch me at these forums: Winnebago-Worth April 4 (times/places tba) and Estherville April 5 at Sleep Inn at 10 a.m.

Senator Segebart: Promises made, promises kept – for now

Job creation and strengthening Iowa’s economy have not received the much-needed attention they deserve this legislative session. As the nation’s economy continues to trudge slowly along shaky ground, Iowans are weary about the future and the impact another economic downturn could have on their lives. It is important for our state these conversations are being held in the Iowa Legislature.  It is our duty to pass responsible legislation that helps job creators expand and grow their workforces and businesses.

This week, Senate Republicans were pleased to see the consumables bill, House File 2443, pass the Iowa House with broad bipartisan support. The bill would end the double tax on manufacturers, by clarifying the definition of replacement parts, including supplies consumed during the manufacturing process as exempt from sales and use tax. If enacted, this legislation will lead to business growth and job creation. Senate Republicans have encouraged the majority party in the Senate to bring this bill to the floor for a vote, but so far our request has not been heard.  A broad, bipartisan majority of legislators in the House and Senate believe this is good tax policy because it leaves the tax in place on the final product, but not the inputs.

Iowa’s manufactured products should not be double-taxed. Addressing the consumables tax language would allow manufacturers to make investments in new equipment. More important, ceasing the “double tax” creates an environment in which companies can continue to pay good wages and employ more skilled workers. I will continue to pursue this significant piece of legislation because it is vital to growing our economy and creating a legacy of opportunity for Iowa’s future.

Appropriation bills are beginning to come into the Senate Appropriations Committee of which I am a member.  This is a sign that this session is starting to come to an end.  This budget is targeted at $6.971 billion, a $479 million increase over last year’s budget.  Much of this increase is tied to last year’s property tax reform, education reform, and expansion of Medicaid coupled with an increase of $86 million in the state’s share of Medicaid.  This amounts to a 7.4% increase over last year’s budget which is not sustainable. Promises made, promises kept, for now.

Senator Feenstra: Iowa Tax Climate

The Tax Foundation recently released the 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index.  Unfortunately, Iowa once again ranked number 40 on the list.  Even though two of our Midwestern competitors rank lower than Iowa, the rest all rank higher with Indiana moving into the 10th spot and South Dakota ranking the second best in the nation.

Whether we eliminate a tax, simplify and reduce taxes, or do some combination of the two, we must never stop trying to improve our tax climate in efforts to help businesses create careers for hard-working Iowans.  I believe we can do even better.

Senator Zumbach: Fighting For You And Your Families

Returning to the Iowa Senate this week, it was understood we would be casting votes on dozens of bills.  The first funnel ended last Friday and Senators attended scores of subcommittee and committee meetings in an attempt to get bills moving before the self-imposed funnel deadline.

The Senate took up more than 60 bills this week, with the overwhelming majority of the proposed legislation receiving broad, bipartisan support.  The topics ranged from a bill creating a Lyme disease task force to enhancing penalties for those convicted of kidnapping a child.

It is essential to provide our students with the flexibility and ability to participate in activities.  That may not always be as simple as it sounds.  In some Iowa districts, certain activities are not offered.  If a student wishes to participate, they may have to travel to a neighboring district that offers them the opportunity.  For some, the distance between schools makes it difficult for students to participate in these programs.  This week we passed a bill so students will have the ability to drive to a contiguous school district for activities.  The bill does not change the passenger requirement or any other provision of a school driver’s permit.  It only expands the route students are able to drive.  This bill helps rural schools and I am proud to have supported this bill and provide our students better opportunities to participate in activities.

There are two issues I try to keep clear.  Know what you are fighting for and know what you are fighting against.  This week I was thinking about Iowa Families and the challenges they face every day.  Let me be clear, I know what I am fighting for— It is you and your families!  During the past few weeks, several senators were offering $200 million here, a couple million over there, and $50 million in other areas.  Out of control spending of your money!  I have a full understanding of how you have to live within your means and it is important to apply these same standards to your government.  I will continue to work hard to maintain the programs and services our communities need and appropriate accordingly.

Senator Whitver: Floor Debate Picks Up, Budget Process Continues

Following the conclusion of funnel week, many bills finally came to the floor this week for a vote. The overwhelming majority of these bills were non-controversial bills, covering a range of topics. Most of these bills passed unanimously. One such bill was Senate File 2201, which made the kidnapping of children 17 and younger a class “B” felony by adding it to the definition of second degree kidnapping. This will require those likely to be repeat offenders to serve longer sentences, in response to the tragic kidnapping and murder of Kathlynn Shepard in May of 2013.

While the bipartisan passage of many bills this week was a breath of fresh air, Iowa Senate Democrats unfortunately continued their record of failed leadership with regard to fiscal stewardship of Iowa taxpayers’ money. Multiple times this week, Democrats pushed for spending increases ranging from two million dollars to 50 million dollars. Since I was elected, I have fought to ensure Iowa’s taxpayers are treated fairly. It is simply not realistic to think government can grow at a rate of 10 percent or more, as families see modest increases to their income at best.

Over the past few weeks, the Senate appropriation subcommittees began meeting to discuss the budget for Fiscal Year 2015. Over the next few weeks, the majority parties in both the House and the Senate will release their budget targets for fiscal year 2015. This is the first major step in the budgeting process. Over the next few weeks I will outline the budget proposals and provide updates on the process. Fiscal discipline was a cornerstone of my election and I will continue to fight for responsible budgeting.

Senator Anderson’s Silver Alert program moves to the Iowa House

DES MOINES – A bill creating a similar emergency alert – such as an Amber Alert – for missing seniors passed Monday in the Iowa Senate. It now moves to the Iowa House for consideration.

Prior to the start of the 2014 Legislative session, Senator Anderson learned from a constituent his 84-year-old grandfather, who suffered from dementia and early stages of Alzheimer’s, had wandered off and could not be located.  The elderly man is still missing. He disappeared on August 3, 2013.

Senator Anderson explained the need for this legislation to become a reality.

“Wandering is a behavior which happens mainly as a result of declining cognitive skills,” Senator Anderson said. “The loss of memory impacts the person’s ability to discern where they are.  I am pleased the Iowa Senate understands the importance of a Silver Alert program to assist in locating missing adults before they are injured or worse.”
Senate File 2189 passed by a 49-0 vote, which would allow the Department of Transportation to display under certain circumstances, the descriptive information of a cognitively impaired missing person on the dynamic or electronic message signs on roadways across the state.

“I proudly proposed this legislation,” said Senator Anderson, R-Pierson. “When it comes to our loved  ones’ safety, we want to ensure all resources can be utilized.”

Senator Guth: Let’s Discuss Voter ID

Maintaining the integrity of Iowa’s voting process is a responsibility Senate Republicans take seriously. Senate Republicans have made numerous attempts to have this discussion with the majority party in recent years. It is likely we will have floor debate on the voting process in the coming weeks especially since the State Government committee passed Senate File 127 – restoring felon voting rights – on a 9-6 party line vote.

Under Senate File 127, a felon’s voting rights would be restored after they are discharged from a criminal sentence, parole, probation or supervised release. Restitution would be required to be paid, but not before the voting rights are restored. Senate Democrats have said “money” should not be the reason the voting rights are not restored. Senate Republicans take a different view regarding restitution. When a judge orders restitution to be paid to a victim at the conclusion of a criminal case, it is part of the sentence. In that event, restitution is not merely a matter of money; it is just as much of the sentencing process as incarceration. Senate Republicans do not believe that should be taken lightly.

Senate Republicans stand with Governor Branstad in keeping the current system in place. Through this process, felons can petition the Governor to have their citizenship rights restored. Under this system, the Department of Corrections notifies the Secretary of State when the felon is released from the sentence.

When it comes to the voting process, Senate Democrats are focused more on restoring felon voting rights. Republicans favor Voter ID, which is an issue an overwhelming majority of Iowans want to see the Legislature address. Asking those who cast a ballot to show a picture ID ensures Iowans our elections are efficient, effective and free of fraudulent practices. This is the conversation a majority of Iowans want us to debate at the Statehouse. Senate Republicans are eager to discuss Voter ID if voting rights comes to the Senate floor for debate.

With the first funnel date behind us and as the 2014 Legislative session moves forward, Senate Republicans look forward to bringing this conversation to the forefront. A growing number of Iowans and Americans favor a Voter ID process. After all, it has become standard practice to show a picture ID for certain purchases, to fly on an airplane, use a debit or credit card. Shouldn’t such an important right and privilege carry the same responsibility?