Using Iowa's property taxes to solve a non-existent problem

Johnson County Supervisor Kurt Friese weighs in on how the Republican voter ID bill, House File 516, will affect county budgets, and by extension property taxpayers. The bill is pending in the state House, after GOP senators passed a different version from the bill approved earlier in the lower chamber. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Voter fraud in Iowa, and more specifically voter impersonation, is so statistically insignificant that it is essentially non-existent. It has zero impact on the outcome of our elections. None. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.

Requiring voters to show ID at their polling place accomplishes exactly nothing to protect the integrity of the election. There is one thing it does accomplish, however: lower voter turnout, especially among minorities and the elderly. That is among the reasons why the Supreme Court blocked North Carolina’s version of the law ahead of last fall’s general election, and why it would likely do so with the Iowa proposal.

Before it comes to that, though, House File 516 will raise your property taxes in order to solve a non-existent problem.

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Iowa passenger rail follow-up and discussion thread

In the final days of the 2011 Iowa legislative session, funding for passenger rail was one of the last disputes House Republican and Senate Democratic negotiators resolved. The final deal called for no passenger rail money in the state budget for fiscal year 2012, but left “intent” language describing future state funding to match federal grants for a train route between Iowa City and Chicago. At that time, news reports indicated that legislators would need to allocate $6.5 million toward passenger rail in fiscal year 2013 to keep this project alive, plus $10 million total in subsequent years.

Before the Iowa House and Senate adjourned last week, I saw no mention of passenger rail funding in any reports about the infrastructure budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins on July 1. Wondering whether no news was bad news, I started asking around. What I learned is after the jump, along with new links on the potential for passenger rail across Iowa.

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Time to recognize solar's huge potential in Iowa

Iowa’s potential to be the “Saudi Arabia of wind” is widely acknowledged, but the state’s capacity to harness solar power for producing electricity or thermal heating is a better-kept secret. A five-year program to install 300 megawatts of solar power could create nearly 5,000 jobs and add more than $332 million in value to Iowa’s economy, according to a new report commissioned by the Iowa Policy Project, the Iowa Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Vote Solar Initiative.

After the jump I’ve posted the summary of the new report. Click here to download the full report (18-page pdf).

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson (known to be cautious about calculating economic impacts) did the analysis for the report.

In his analysis, ISU’s Swenson estimated during the five years of installing 300 MW of solar the average annual impact would be:

• $174 million value added to the economy

• $302 million increased industrial output

• $99 million increased labor income.

Those numbers include sizable indirect effects – spinoff economic effects caused by the initial investment.

“Growth in the solar industry means direct jobs for more than just rooftop installers but also for electricians, builders, contractors, engineers, technicians, financiers, lawyers, marketers and salespeople,” the report stated.

Swenson’s estimate does not include new manufacturing jobs in the solar industry that might be created if Iowa adopted incentives to produce more solar power.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom has introduced a bill to spur more solar installation in Iowa:

Other states have jump-started the growth of solar panel manufacturers by providing tax credits to businesses and homeowners who buy from manufacturers in their states, Bolkcom said.

His proposal in Senate File 99 is not that specific, but it would provide up to $10 million in state-sponsored rebates to home-owners and businesses to help defray the cost of installing solar energy panels. The grants would cover 30 percent of the cost of installation, up to a maximum of $15,000 for farms and businesses and up to $3,000 for residences.

Later this month, the Iowa Policy Project’s David Osterberg is planning to take some state legislators on a tour of solar sites in Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. I hope to see bipartisan support for expanding solar power generation here.

So far, the main energy policy moving through the Iowa legislature during the 2011 session relates to nuclear power. In 2010, lawmakers approved a bill to allow MidAmerican Energy “to pass along up to $5 million per year in study expenses to customers for three years” as it studies potential locations for a new nuclear power plant. Now MidAmerican and utility industry groups are pushing “Construction Work in Progress” legislation that “would allow Iowa public utilities to charge ratepayers higher rates now to cover potential future costs of a yet to be constructed nuclear reactor, even if such a reactor is never built.” The Iowa House Commerce Committee unanimously approved one of the bills this week, and a companion bill has support in the Iowa Senate. Paul Deaton explains here and here why these bills are a bad idea. I recommend clicking through to read both posts, but here’s an excerpt:

The State of Georgia may build the first new nuclear plant in 30 years and adopted a CWIP [Construction Work in Progress] . Iowa legislators should study the impact the Georgia CWIP has on ratepayers. Other CWIPs were passed in South Carolina and Florida and they should also be studied. People familiar with the Georgia CWIP say Iowa’s proposed legislation shifts more risk to customers than does Georgia. There are other things to consider regarding CWIPs before the legislature passes one.

It boils down to this. If MidAmerican Energy builds a nuclear power generating station, for each billion dollars in costs, on average, $1,597 will be passed along to each of MidAmerican’s 626,223 Iowa retail customers. Are Iowa households ready for this? Are Iowa households ready to foot the bill knowing that a nuclear power generating station may never be built?

Nuclear power is expensive compared to other methods for generating electricity. It is “not viable” without huge government subsidies and “shifts financial risks to taxpayers.”

Iowa could expand solar power without passing along millions of dollars in costs to utility company customers. Hundreds of megawatts of solar power generating capacity could be brought online in Iowa over a few years, whereas a new nuclear plant would not be completed until 2020. Moreover, a nuclear plant would probably employ several hundred people in one locality. (Iowa’s only existing nuclear power plant employs roughly 500 people in the Palo area.) Ramping up Iowa’s solar capacity could create jobs for thousands of people spread out all over the state, wherever buildings are retrofitted to accommodate solar power.

Any comments about energy policy are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Today’s Des Moines Register contains an outstanding guest piece by Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. Click through to read the whole thing. I’ve posted some excerpts below.

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The case of the missing Republican fundraising

Last week Democratic and Republican candidates for the Iowa legislature filed disclosure reports on their campaign contributions and expenditures. For most candidates, those reports covered the period from June 2 through July 14. For the few candidates who didn’t file reports on the Friday preceding the June primary, the July 19 reports covered campaign fundraising and expenses between May 15 and July 14.

John Deeth posted cash-on-hand totals for candidates in most of the Iowa House and Senate battleground districts. The numbers are encouraging for Democrats, because our candidates lead their opponents in cash on hand in most of the targeted districts.

As I read through the July 19 contribution reports, I noticed something strange. Republican candidates in various targeted Iowa House and Senate districts reported improbably low fundraising numbers. As a general rule, candidates strive for impressive fundraising to demonstrate their viability, and cash on hand in July indicates which candidate will have more resources during crunch time. However, I got the impression that several of the Republican Iowa House and Senate candidates made little effort to obtain campaign contributions during the latest reporting period. Follow me after the jump for some examples and possible explanations.  

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Big fundraising deadline and other events coming up this week

The next reporting period for Iowa candidates ends on Wednesday night, so now’s a good time to contribute to Democratic campaigns if you are able and willing. The easiest way to donate is through ActBlue. Iowa’s federal and statewide candidates are here, Iowa House candidates are here, and Iowa Senate candidates are here. Donations made before the end of July 14 will count for the current reporting period.

Event details for political and environmental gatherings this week are after the jump.

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