Weekend open thread: Taxes and other news from the week

The Iowa legislature was supposed to adjourn for the year on April 29, but the session could go on for quite some time. The most important unresolved issues relate to the state budget and tax policy: whether legislators will pass spending plans for one fiscal year or two, how much and what kind of tax cuts will be approved, and whether the state will take the unprecedented step of passing no allowable growth for K-12 education budgets. I doubt all of this will be resolved in a week or two. Governor Terry Branstad and Republican leaders in the Iowa House worked out a deal on property tax reform, which cleared the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, but it sounds like that is a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate. Earlier this month, the Senate passed a $200 million commercial property tax break on a bipartisan 46 to 4 vote. Some Democrats have also warned that the Republican property tax plan usurps local government powers.

This Tuesday, May 3, Linn County residents will be able to vote on whether to extend the one percent local option sales and services tax beyond July 1, 2014. Cedar Rapids would use the local option sales tax revenue "for flood protection, street repairs, and property tax relief." Click here for more details on the ballot initiative and flood prevention plans.

Cedar Rapids officials have asked state legislators to let the city use $200 million in state sales tax revenues for flood prevention over the next two decades. The idea has some support at the capitol but hasn't won final approval yet. Peter Fisher of the Iowa Policy Project and Iowa Fiscal Partnership has made a convincing case against this approach to funding flood prevention (see also here).

Iowans for Tax Relief has experienced a mass exodus of high-level staff this month, and the influential conservative group's most prominent board member resigned as well. I'm sure there's an interesting back-story, but the latest public communication from Iowans for Tax Relief Chairman Dave Stanley wasn't enlightening. Maybe the group will turn up on some Republican presidential campaign staff soon.

Good news and bad news came out of the April 27 meeting of the State Board of Regents. The bad news is that students at Iowa State will pay 3 percent more next year for room and board. Those charges will go up 4.3 percent at the University of Northern Iowa and 5 percent at the University of Iowa. The good news is that the University of Iowa will expand its small certificate program for students with intellectual disabilities. Former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson was instrumental in getting that program going; click here for more background.

Speaking of college life, the country's conservative noise machine was up in arms this week about a dust-up in Iowa City. Anthropology and Women's Studies Professor Ellen Lewin used an obscene epithet responding to an e-mail from the College Republicans about a conservative "coming out" event on campus. University President Sally Mason has already spoken out against the "bad behavior" by a faculty member. Natalie Ginty, leader of the College Republicans, isn't satisfied and filed a formal complaint against Lewin, seeking further investigation of the incident. I don't know what she expects investigators to turn up regarding a hasty "F** You" e-mail. I think we can all agree that faculty shouldn't communicate with students in that way. The Daily Iowan editorial board got it right in my opinion:

There is no evidence that this was anything more than a momentary lapse in professionalism. Professors, like students, are justified in having their own political perspectives - as long as they do not get in the way of their duties. If Lewin were engaged in a pattern of harassing conservative students, strict punitive measures would be justified; an inappropriately vulgar expression of outrage is another matter. [...]

The disproportionate response to this case is indicative of a Manichean partisan culture in which both sides thrive on misplaced martyrdom.

Harsh punitive measures would only serve to legitimize the exaggerated indignation, and our rhetorical culture deserves better.

A simple reprimand would remind Lewin of her duties as a professor: to hold herself as an example of intellectual, professional competence and a model of reasoned argumentation.

This is an open thread. What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

UPDATE: State Senator Bill Dotzler delivered clever floor remarks on May 2, giving five reasons Iowans for Tax Relief should hire Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom as its next executive director. I've posted the case he made after the jump.


Senator Bill Dotzler: (319) 296-2947

May 2, 2011

The best choice to lead Iowans for Tax Relief is Senator Joe Bolkcom

Prepared remarks by Senator Bill Dotzler of Waterloo, chair of the Economic Development Budget Subcommittee and vice-chair of the Economic Growth Committee.  Given Monday, May 2, 2011 on the floor of the Iowa Senate.

The leadership openings at Iowans for Tax Relief are an opportunity for this troubled organization to refocus on its stated mission: providing tax relief to Iowans.

Instead of tax giveaways for Iowa's Donald Trumps and for out-of-state corporations, the next director of Iowans for Tax Relief should have a record of actually fighting for tax relief for the majority of Iowans.

The choice is obvious: Joe Bolkcom, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Senator Bolkcom's approach to tax policy is fairness for all and help for small and Main Street businesses.  With his help, Iowans for Tax Relief could bridge the divisions that prevent significant tax reform.

Here are five good reasons why Senator Bolkcom should be the next director of Iowans for Tax Relief:

1.     The Earned Income Tax Credit: Senator Bolkcom leads the fight to give a tax cut to 240,000 working families making less than $45,000 a year.  His idea was unanimously approved by the Iowa House and Senate.

When Governor Branstad vetoed it, arguing that these working families don't pay taxes, Senator Bolkcom reminded the Governor that not only do most families DO pay state income taxes, they also pay sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes and other taxes.

2.     Senator Bolkcom's $200 million commercial property tax cut proposal is the only proposal this year that A) focuses on small and Main Street businesses; B), is not a tax shift onto residential property taxpayers; and, C), does not harm and therefore is supported by schools, cities, and counties.

3.     Senator Bolkcom is Iowa's strongest advocate for a fundamental review of Iowa's corporate tax credits.  He understands that too often Iowa's corporate tax credits too often simply throw money at large corporations, wasting resources and discrediting effective tax credit initiatives.

4.     Senator Bolkcom helped write Senate File 506 which would provide an employee health insurance tax cut to 60,000 Iowa businesses with 10 or fewer employees and was unanimously approved by the Iowa Senate.

5.     Senator Bolkcom helped write and win passage of Senate File 99 which would provide tax credits to homeowners and businesses that install on-site solar and wind projects.  This tax credit would jumpstart Iowa's local renewable energy businesses and create jobs statewide for local electricians, plumbers, heating and cooling contractors and other small business.

Hiring Senator Joe Bolkcom to lead Iowans for Tax Relief would be the clearest way to break with the past.  No longer would Iowans for Tax Relief serve simply as a front organization for Iowa's own "Wall Street Republicans."

This final sentence sums up my message to the board of directors of Iowans for Tax Relief :

"Get serious about providing real tax relief to Iowans by hiring Joe Bolkcom to be your next director."

  • The Ellen Lewin controversy

    Here's an interview with University of Iowa Professors Timothy Hagle (the University of Iowa College Republicans faculty advisor) and Kembrew McLeod, Matt Sowada, the conservative co-host of the political talk radio show American Reason on KRUI, and Rod Sullivan from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors about Professor Ellen Lewin's "F- You, Republicans!" email response to the University of Iowa College Republicans campus-wide invite for people to participate in "Conservative Coming Out Week."


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