Minority impact statements in Iowa: History and continuing efforts

Marty Ryan of Des Moines lobbied the Iowa legislature for 27 years and now blogs weekly. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Iowa quarter, printed in the latter part of 2004, is based upon a Grant Wood painting depicting a group of students and their teacher planting a tree outside of a county school. The statement on the coin says, “Foundation In Education.” For many decades, Iowa was noted for its first-in-the-nation education status. Likewise, Iowa has been a consistent leader in civil rights.

In fact, Iowa established some standards of equality long before the federal government or other states.

But racial disparities continue to affect Iowans in many areas of life. A reform the Democratic-controlled legislature enacted more than a decade ago has only slightly mitigated the problem.

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Who benefits from expanding options on teacher retirement plans?

Randy Richardson, retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, shares the backstory on regulations Iowa Republicans weakened during this year’s legislative session. -promoted by desmoinesdem

On December 8, Bleeding Heartland shared a post entitled “Iowa Republicans Found Yet Another Way to Hurt Teachers This Year.” The post outlines the passage of House File 569, a bill that allowed 30 additional vendors to offer 403(b) products to teachers starting this year. GOP State Senator Tim Kraayenbrink, who is also a financial adviser, dismissed Democrats’ claims that the array of investments would be too confusing and allow companies to charge exorbitant fees on teachers’ savings. But is that accurate?

As someone who was very involved in the transition to the Retired Investors Club that is administered by the Department of Administrative Services, I thought it might be a good time to revisit why this all took place.

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Federal education grant summons ghost of labor bill past

UPDATE: The Iowa House passed this bill on a party-line vote on Friday, and Culver signed it the same day.

Democratic state legislators are rushing to pass a bill that will allow Iowa to apply for a federal education grant of up to $175 million. The application is due on Tuesday, and Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. day, so Governor Chet Culver needs to be able to sign the bill this weekend.

The Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2033 on Wednesday. Senate Education Committee Chair Becky Schmitz summarized key provisions relating to the “Race to the Top” grant:

Specifically, the legislation before you today will:

   *     Remove the cap and repeal date for charter schools in Iowa.  Currently, Iowa Code has a 20 charter school cap and a repeal date for all charter schools on July 1, 2011.  […]

   *     Allow schools to develop Innovation Zone Schools and Consortiums -This legislation adds innovation zone schools and consortiums to the ways that schools districts can foster innovation in more schools.

Senate Republicans voted against this bill, and House Republicans will do the same when it’s considered today. They want to see Iowa relax current restrictions on who can operate a charter school. Additionally, they argue that it’s unwise to apply for one-time federal funds to support ongoing education expenses. The GOP talking point of choice is to call this bill “Race for the Cash.”

Republicans also claim the bill would shift authority toward “union bosses” because of provisions that are not directly linked to the federal grant application. More on that story is after the jump.

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Why don't Iowa leaders do more to protect the environment? (updated)

David Yepsen published his final column in the Des Moines Register before starting his new job as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. It reprises some themes from many previous columns, such as the need to create a world-class education system and thriving economy in Iowa, with fewer layers of government.

As often happens when I read one of Yepsen’s columns, I wonder why he ignores some obvious paths to achieving his admirable goals. For instance, he wants Iowa to “set the goal of having one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country within 10 years.” Is this the same columnist who never met a labor union he liked? It reminded me of how Yepsen periodically slams the excessive influence of big money in politics, but won’t get behind a voluntary public financing system for clean elections.

In Yepsen’s final column, one passage in particular caught my eye:

Let’s set a goal to have the cleanest environment in the country within 10 years. The cleanest air. The cleanest water. The best soil- and energy-conservation practices.

We’ve had education governors. We’ve had sporadic focus on growing the economy. For some reason, we’ve lacked a similar focus on the environment. Creating a clean environment will create green jobs, but it will also make Iowa more attractive as a place to live and do business.

“For some reason”? I think most of us have a pretty good idea why improving air and water quality has never been a high priority for Iowa leaders. Follow me after the jump for more on this problem.

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The failure of leadership behind that pig odor earmark

President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the Congressional earmarking process on Wednesday:

• Members’ earmark requests should be posted on their Web sites.

• There should be public hearings on earmark requests “where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.”

• Any earmark for a for-profit company would have to be competitively bid.

The reforms are intended to deflect criticism after Obama signed the $410 billion 2009 omnibus spending bill, which included about $7.7 billion in earmarks.

I have no time for the Republican Party’s blatant hypocrisy on what is really a “phantom problem”. Republican members of Congress secure plenty of earmarks for their own states even as they posture against “pork.” They don’t seem to care about sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts awarded by executive agencies, which cost taxpayers much more than all earmarks combined.

Beltway journalists have been following the Republican script, focusing way too much on earmarks, even though they are “inconsequential”:

Not only do they represent less than one percent of the federal budget, eliminating them wouldn’t even reduce federal spending by even that tiny amount, or any amount at all, since earmarks by definition simply tag the spending in an already established pot of money, such as the Community Development Block Grant. The only question is whether decisions about funding individual projects should be made by Congress — through earmarks — or by a supposedly apolitical administrative process.

Furthermore, Jonathan Singer points out, earmarks simply don’t register when Americans are asked an open-ended question about their concerns.

I’m all for the reforms Obama announced yesterday, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they will make a dent in government spending.

Although I think concerns about earmarks are exaggerated, I do want to examine the origin of Senator Tom Harkin’s $1.8 million earmark for studying odors from large hog confinements (CAFOs) in Iowa. It has become the poster child for Republican taunts about useless earmarks, prompting Harkin to defend himself (see here and here).

Follow me after the jump for more on why the federal government is funding this study. The earmark has its roots in unfortunate decisions that Iowa Democratic leaders made last year–with the enthusiastic support of statehouse Republicans and corporate ag groups.

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House rejects effort to make gay marriage ban eligible for debate

Desperate for an election-year campaign issue, House Minority Leader Chris Rants tried and failed today to pass a resolution that would have made a gay marriage ban eligible for debate this session. No committee in the Democratic-controlled chamber is willing to pass the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

By a 50-46 party-line vote, the House rejected Rants’ resolution, which would have allowed the chamber to debate the ban even after the bill failed to get through the “funnel.”

Iowa Independent has more on the story here.

I am pleasantly surprised that none of the House Democrats defected on this procedural vote. They must all be feeling confident about their re-election prospects. Maybe that’s because nine House Republicans are retiring this year, while only two Democratic-held House seats will be open.

Regarding Rants’ efforts to keep the gay marriage debate alive, I think Des Moines Register reader Jay Radcliffe said it best in this letter to the editor from late January:

Thank goodness for Christopher Rants. As I drive down the highway smelling the stench from the hog lots, watching the filthy water roll under the bridge, worrying if my kids will fall behind as their schools fall apart, wondering if my elderly mother is receiving quality care and planning how to survive if I lose my job in this recession, Rants is leading the charge against gay marriage. Talk about a profile in courage.

Keep up the great work, Christopher!

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