Iowa Senate Republicans seeking to end solar tax credit

The official Iowa Senate Republican tax plan would repeal the state’s popular Solar Energy Systems tax credit later this year.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Randy Feenstra introduced Senate Study Bill 3197 on February 21 and scheduled a subcommittee meeting on the 130-page bill for 8:00 am the following morning. Sweeping changes to individual and corporate income tax rates could reduce state revenue by more than $1 billion annually, though the details are unclear, because no fiscal analysis is publicly available.

Although the bill would create a new legislative committee to “comprehensively review and evaluate each tax credit” (pages 31-2), it also calls for scaling back or eliminating some tax credits, with the solar incentive the first to go.

Continue Reading...

The bill that was absolutely written by Jake Chapman, not MidAmerican Energy

Citizen lobbyist Matt Chapman (no relation to Senator Jake Chapman) digs into the politics behind a bill that has been called “the utility attack on Iowa’s clean energy leadership.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

The subcommittee hearing on Senate Study Bill 3093 was scheduled for room 315 on the south side of the capitol. Although it is a good-sized room, and the temperature was 15 degrees outside on February 1, lobbyists were packed in like sardines, and it was suffocating. Iowa Senate Commerce Committee vice chair Senator Michael Breitbach joked before the meeting, “if anyone passes out you can just lean on” the people crammed in next to them.

It would not be an exaggeration to say there were sixty people in that room. Seventy five even. SSB 3093 has more than a hundred lobbyist declarations already.

Committee chair Jake Chapman was late; you could hear the groans when someone said he was getting on the elevator and would be a few minutes. Chapman was seated and vice chair Breitbach was running the meeting. He said we would go through the legislation by section and would be considering only objections, because of time constraints. That suggested lobbyists backing the bill would keep quiet. It was also a clue that a trap was being set.

Continue Reading...

Five cases against Iowa's phony "water quality" bill

Iowa House Republicans capitulated on January 23, sending the Senate’s version of a bill to fund water programs to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk. During the floor debate on Senate File 512, several Democrats and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore argued for the water quality language House members had approved last year with strong bipartisan support. Whereas agricultural lobby groups were the primary supporters of Senate File 512, a large number of stakeholders were involved in crafting the House amendment. Insisting on the House version would have sent the legislation to a conference committee for further negotiations. All 41 House Democrats and five Republicans (Baltimore, Mary Ann Hanusa, Jake Highfill, Guy Vander Linden, and Ralph Watts) opposed “receding” from the House version, but the other 54 Republicans approved the motion to abandon that language (roll call).

The subsequent 59 to 41 vote to approve final passage of the Senate bill mostly followed party lines, but four Democrats who represent smaller towns and rural areas voted yes: Bruce Bearinger, Helen Miller, Scott Ourth, and Todd Prichard. Miller has taken a particular interest in farm-related issues over the years; she is the Agriculture Committee Chair for the National Black Caucus of State Legislators as well as a member of State Agricultural and Rural Leaders.

Four Republicans joined the rest of the House Democrats to oppose Senate File 512: Baltimore, Hanusa, Highfill, and Vander Linden. As floor manager of this legislation in 2017, Baltimore led a group of GOP House members who opposed the Senate’s approach. More recently, he was sidelined as the Iowa Farm Bureau and allies pressured the “Baltimore 16” to accept the Senate bill without amendments. Appearing on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” broadcast on January 22, Baltimore sounded discouraged, saying there was a “snowball’s chance in hell” of a water quality compromise. His final words on that program called for “reasonable minds” to get something “comprehensive and collaborative done, rather than shoving one bill down another chamber’s throat and promising to work on it later.”

New floor manager John Wills promised passage of Senate File 512 would be “just the beginning, not the end” of legislative discussions on water quality. No one I know in the environmental community believes Republicans will approve any further funding increases for water programs, much less a bill that would measure progress so the public could find out what methods work best to reduce water pollution.

I enclose below some of the best takes I’ve seen on the worse-than-doing-nothing bill Reynolds will soon sign.

Continue Reading...

IA-Sen: Judge playing down, Hogg playing up differences on water quality

Photo of Iowa stream courtesy of InIowaWater.org, a project of the Environmental Law & Policy Center

By entering the U.S. Senate race, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge ensured that environmental issues would become salient for many Iowa Democrats trying to choose among the four candidates running against Senator Chuck Grassley.

During the past two weeks, Judge has sought to minimize the daylight between herself and State Senator Rob Hogg on the need to address water pollution. But Hogg, widely considered Judge’s leading rival for the nomination, has made environmental concerns a big part of his pitch to Democrats.

Continue Reading...

Rest in peace, David Hurd

Broken Kettle Grasslands near Sioux City, Iowa–photo by Matt Hauge, used with permission

David Hurd passed away in Des Moines this weekend at the age of 86. Police have ruled out foul play in his deadly fall from his condominium building but have not announced whether he took his own life or fell accidentally. He had been suffering from Lewy body disease, a progressive condition.

Hurd was a legendary figure in local business circles, a past CEO of Principal Financial and member of the Iowa Business Hall of Fame since 1994. He left a bigger mark on the capital city than most people of comparable wealth have done. The Des Moines Register’s Lissandra Villa wrote about some of his philanthropic contributions here.

Many progressive organizations benefited from Hurd’s generosity, but it would be particularly hard to overstate how much he did for Iowa’s environmental community. Morgan Gstalter reported for the Register on Hurd’s gift that allowed the Nature Conservancy to acquire the first portion of the Broken Kettle Grasslands in the Loess Hills area: “Now at 3,217 acres, Broken Kettle is Iowa’s largest remaining native prairie and is home to bison and rattlesnakes.” The photo at the top of this post shows a tiny part of the stunning landscape. That gift alone would have secured Hurd’s legacy in the environmental world, but he was just getting started.

I became acquainted with Hurd during several years when we served together on the Iowa Environmental Council board. He was a co-founder of the organization. A few qualities stick out in my mind. First, he was attentive but generally quiet during meetings–the opposite of some business types who tend to dominate group conversations. Possibly reading my mind, Principal’s current CEO Dan Houston told the Register that Hurd was “one of the smartest guys you’d ever meet” but also “a very humble man, very capable, diverse, global, international and kind. He listened so, so very well.” Yes. Hurd was frequently the smartest guy in the room, but he never made a big deal about being the smartest guy in the room.

Hurd didn’t throw his weight around. He never pulled rank on any other board member, despite having given more money to the council than anyone else. I never heard of him trying to interfere with staff work, which large benefactors of many organizations have been known to do. When new ideas or programs were floated, he wanted to know about real-world impact: how would doing this thing potentially make Iowa’s water cleaner, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Even more unusual for a prominent person in the business community, Hurd did not restrict his giving to environmental organizations I consider “politically correct,” such as the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation or the Nature Conservancy. He supported non-profits that opposed powerful corporate interests in our state. I’m thinking not only of the Iowa Environmental Council, which pushed for water quality rules that Big Ag groups fought all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. He was a consistent donor to 1000 Friends of Iowa (on whose board I also serve), and our sustainable land use agenda is not popular with developers.

During his retirement, Hurd helped create the local Scrabble club. When people who had played against him would talk about how competitive he was at the game, I was always amused. In other contexts, he came across as laid back and didn’t give off a competitive vibe at all–which also struck me as atypical for a major corporation’s onetime CEO.

At the CNN Democratic candidates’ town hall a few days before the Iowa caucuses, I spotted David and his wife Trudy in the audience and went over to say a quick hello. I wish I had known that was my chance to say goodbye.

Continue Reading...
View More...