Weekend thread: Big Iowa problems

A majority of Iowans think mental health services, student loan debt, child welfare services, state university tuition, and the state budget are either a “crisis” or a “big problem” for Iowa, according to the latest Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. Among nine issues tested in the survey of 801 Iowa adults in late January, mental health services registered as the top concern: 35 percent of respondents described the situation as a crisis, 38 percent as a big problem. No other topic registered above 20 percent for “crisis.”

Tony Leys reported on the poll for the Sunday Des Moines Register.

Two-thirds or more of Republicans, Democrats and independents agree that the mental-health system as in crisis or a big problem. Yet there is a partisan skew. Among Democrats, 44 percent see the system as being in crisis, compared to 27 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of political independents.

Partisan differences also are evident in views on other issues. With Republicans controlling the Legislature and governor’s office, Iowa Democrats are more likely to see crises in many areas affected by state policy.

On child welfare, 33 percent of Iowa Democrats see the system as being in crisis, compared to 12 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of independents. Of the nine possible areas of concern listed in the poll, only “the availability of a skilled workforce” is seen as a crisis by more Republicans than Democrats, albeit by one point. Ten percent of Iowa Republicans see that situation as a crisis, compared to 9 percent of Democrats and 9 percent of political independents.

Chart showing numbers for all nine issues tested:

The Selzer poll found no consensus among Iowa adults on the wisdom of state policies to attract jobs, Kevin Hardy reported for the Register on February 6.

Forty-eight percent of respondents characterized state economic development incentives as “mostly a success.” Another 35 percent described them as “mostly a failure” and 17 percent were unsure.

But on a separate question, a slim plurality said they favored cutting tax credits: 44 percent of respondents said they would favor an effort to “dramatically reduce the number of tax credits awarded to Iowa businesses.” Another 41 percent said they would oppose such an effort and 15 percent were unsure.

A push by grocery stores to scrap Iowa’s recycling problem is unpopular, the same poll indicates. Only 22 percent want to end Iowa’s deposit on cans and bottles, while 30 percent want to “keep the law the way it is” and 27 percent favor expanding it “to include juice and water bottles,” William Petroski reported on February 8.

Republican State Representative Andy McKean and Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart have introduced a bill to keep the 5-cent deposit on bottles and cans, expand the program to cover water, juice, and sports drinks, and “increase the handling fee for retailers and redemption centers from 1 cent to 2 cents.” House File 2155 has 17 Republican and 24 Democratic co-sponsors.

The big news out of Congress last week was the deal to keep the federal government funded through March 23, which Bleeding Heartland covered here. Below the radar, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas again blocked a vote on Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s confirmation to an under-secretary position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If not for Cruz’s objection, Northey would have been confirmed months ago. Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Amy Klobuchar joined Senator Joni Ernst in supporting Senator Chuck Grassley’s February 7 request for unanimous consent on Northey’s nomination. In a Senate floor speech, Grassley criticized “Taking a nominee hostage to try and force an ill-conceived policy change” on the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is not related to “President Trump’s choice to oversee farm programs at USDA.”

Representative Steve King (IA-04) brought Northey as his guest to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30, saying in a statement he “hopes his presence at the State of the Union address will encourage Senators in attendance to swiftly confirm Mr. Northey.” King was one of Cruz’s most valuable supporters before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, but he doesn’t have enough clout with Cruz to overcome the Texas senator’s allegiance to oil refiners.

If Northey is confirmed, he will resign from his current position, clearing the path for Governor Kim Reynolds to appoint a leader for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship until voters elect a new secretary this November. Five Republicans have indicated that they will seek the office: Craig Lang, Ray Gaesser, Mike Naig, Chad Ingels, and Dan Zumbach. Tim Gannon is likely to be the only Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture.

UPDATE: King’s son Jeff King told McClatchy reporter Andrea Drusch “there aren’t many Cruz supporters left” in Iowa. Drusch noted that Jeff King “helped Cruz’s presidential Super PAC and once called the senator the ‘answer to my prayers.'”

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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  • Water quality

    Thanks for sharing that chart with readers. Turns out the percentage of Iowans who think water quality is only a little problem, or think that Iowa’s water is just fine, is higher than for any other issue listed — 56%. I suspect that is partly because so many Iowans have no idea what it would even be like to live in a state where water quality matters.