Latest Branstad administration news and appointments

Governor-elect Terry Branstad announced three appointments on December 7. He will retain Brigadier General Tim Orr as Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, a post Orr has held since March 2009. Story County Treasurer Dave Jamison, who unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer, will head the Iowa Finance Authority in the Branstad administration. Retired Iowa Army National Guard Brigadier General Jodi Tymeson will lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Tymeson retired from the Iowa House this year, having represented district 73 for five terms.

Press releases containing background information on all three appointees are after the jump. None of them should have trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate. I noticed the Branstad administration’s bio of Tymeson didn’t mention her most recent role as co-chair of Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign.

Branstad has asked all state department heads to send him their resignations by December 15. He will replace most, if not all, of Governor Chet Culver’s appointees.

Branstad named three new staffers today. His liaison to the Iowa House and Senate will be Todd Schulz, who has handled government relations for Newton-based Iowa Telecom. The governor’s executive scheduler will be Alicia Freed, a former staffer for Senator Chuck Grassley who most recently worked as project manager for RuffaloCODY LLC in Cedar Rapids. Jimmy Centers, who was northeast Iowa field coordinator for Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign, will be deputy communications director. I wouldn’t be surprised if Centers got a promotion before too long, because Branstad’s communications director Tim Albrecht may go work for one of the Republican presidential campaigns in 2011.

Meanwhile, Branstad spoke about his property tax plans while addressing the Iowa Taxpayers Association’s annual meeting in West Des Moines today.

In proposing to cut commercial property tax rates by 35 percent to 40 percent for new businesses and phase down rates for existing businesses in a like manner over four or five years, Branstad said part of the lost revenues for local entities could be offset by increased business activity that would generate new property tax receipts. He also suggested that cities and counties should be less aggressive in offering tax increment financing and abatements that create disparities among new and existing businesses.

The price tag for lowering the commercial property tax burden would depend on the growth the proposed relief could generate, he said. Branstad said his plan would be to provide state funding to hold local governments “harmless” but not give them a windfall in the process – similar to when the state phased out the property tax on machinery and equipment in the 1990s when he previously served as governor.

“We want to make this adjustment in a fair way,” Branstad said, conceding that the cost could be as much as $500 million over four years.

The Iowa Taxpayers Association supports Branstad’s property tax plans, but Republican legislative leaders have warned getting the proposal through the legislature will be difficult. Yesterday Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal described the phase-out of the property tax on machinery and equipment as “pretty close to the biggest unfunded mandate in the history of the state.” The executive directors of the National League of Cities and the Iowa League of Cities both expressed concern about Branstad’s proposal:

No other state in the nation is considering similar cuts to commercial property taxes, said Donald Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, a national advocate for municipalities. Resulting cuts to key city services such as police protection and road improvements ultimately could push businesses away, he said.

“The objective” to lower commercial property tax “is a laudable one, but the cost to municipalities could be draconian,” Borut said. “If there is some way to guarantee in blood that the municipalities would be held harmless, it’s one thing, but I don’t know how one can do that. Even with the best intentions, the pressures would be enormous.”

UPDATE: James Q. Lynch has more on local government officials worrying about Branstad’s property tax proposals. In that piece, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett raises some good points:

Cedar Rapids is more dependent on property taxes than many communities, Corbett said. It has no gaming revenue and it local option sales tax is dedicated to flood recovery.

On a personal level, he’d like to see property tax relief targeted to benefit local businesses.

“Is there some different classification within commercial property tax base so you’re not giving Wal-mart a tax break at the same level as small business” he said.

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