# Tax Reform

Steve King has empathy after all (updated)

Representative Steve King doesn’t come across as the most compassionate guy in the world, bragging about opposing aid for Hurricane Katrina victims and questioning the need to stop deporting undocumented Haitian immigrants after last month’s earthquake.

But if you thought King was incapable of feeling empathy, you’re wrong. Over the weekend he spoke to a panel on immigration at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

During his closing remarks, King veered into a complaint about high taxes, and said he could “empathize” with the man who flew a plane into an IRS building last week.

During the question and answer session, the Media Matters staffer asked King to clarify his comment, reminding him of his sworn duty to protect the American people from all sworn enemies, foreign and domestic. In response, said the staffer, King gave a long and convoluted answer about having been personally audited by the IRS, and ended by saying he intended to hold a fundraiser to help people “implode” their local IRS office.

That’s right, King feels empathy for a guy who crashed his plane into a federal building, intending to harm the IRS employees inside. In the process, the man killed a loving family man and longtime federal worker who served two terms in Vietnam.

Following King’s remarks at the CPAC panel, a man with a video camera gave the congressman a chance to clarify his remarks. King dug deeper. (continues after the jump)

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Terry Branstad's accountability problem

For a guy who claims to be proud of his record, former governor Terry Branstad sure has a funny way of showing it.

On one issue after another, Branstad takes credit for things he didn’t do and evades responsibility for things he did. So, the governor who kept two sets of books boasts about enacting budget reforms that that other people pushed in response to his fiscal mismanagement.

The governor who used state bonding more than once says that politicians who create debt should be voted out of office.

Pressed on his record of expanding gambling in Iowa, Branstad has suggested he had little choice in the matter: “What was I supposed to do? Over 70% of the people wanted it even though I was personally opposed to it.”

Now Branstad is playing the same game on the Road Use Tax Fund and the idea of eliminating federal deductibility from Iowa’s tax system.

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Two tax votes reveal Republican priorities

The House of Representatives approved the Tax Extenders Act of 2009 on Wednesday by a vote of 241 to 181. As you can see from the roll call, all but ten Democrats voted for the bill, including Iowa’s Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell. All but two Republicans voted against it, including Iowa’s Tom Latham and Steve King. After the jump I’ve posted more details about the business tax credits that would be extended if this bill becomes law.

On December 3, the House passed the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families Farmers and Small Businesses Act, which caps the estate tax at 45 percent and exempts estates worth up to $3.5 million (preserving this tax at 2009 levels). Again, all of Iowa’s Democrats voted for the bill. Iowa’s Republicans voted against it. If Congress had not acted, the estate tax would have been repealed in 2010 and then would have reverted to its 2001 level in 2011 (a 55 percent tax on estates valued above $1 million).

Republicans claim the so-called “death tax” is a burden to small business owners and farmers. Candidate Jim Gibbons already used this canard in a press release targeting Boswell. Right-wingers can’t find any real-world families who had to sell the farm because of the estate tax. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has concluded (emphasis added),

If the 2009 estate tax rules are extended, only 100 small business and farm estates in the entire nation will owe any estate tax at all in 2011, according to the new estimates by the Tax Policy Center, and virtually none of those businesses and farms would have to be sold to pay the tax. […]

Under 2009 law, the estates of more than 997 of every 1,000 people who die will owe no estate tax whatsoever. […] In its latest analysis, the Tax Policy Center projects that only 0.25 percent of the estates of people who die in 2011 – i.e., the estates of 1 of every 400 people who die – will be subject to the estate tax if the 2009 estate tax rules are continued.

Less than 1 percent of estates in Iowa were subject to the estate tax in recent years.

To sum up: Republicans are for saving farmers and small business owners from the so-called “death tax” that doesn’t apply to them. But when they had a chance on Wednesday to extend tax credits affecting farms and small businesses, House Republicans said no.

Why am I not surprised?

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Culver calls for new budget process

Speaking to the annual meeting of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation today, Governor Chet Culver said the way Iowa drafts its budgets should be changed:

Currently, the governor said he is required to submit a state budget by the end of January based on projections set by the state Revenue Estimating Conference in December, but then lawmakers craft their spending plan after the REC’s next quarterly estimates in March.

“That makes no sense at all. For three months, we sit around and wait for the March number in many cases before serious budget discussions take place,” he said. “We have a moving target. It is terribly frustrating and we need to make some changes.”

Several accounting experts have told me that it is impossible to estimate state revenues accurately. The current system leads to budget surpluses when the economy is doing well and shortfalls requiring rapid cuts when the economy heads downhill.

As usual, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has a better idea. Speaking to the Des Moines Register in October,

Swenson said he believes the budget-setting system is backward. Government should look at annual needs and adjust taxes and fees to accomplish goals. Instead, officials adjust needs by what’s available.

“It is a stupid system and makes no sense,” Swenson said.

The most recent Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register showed that broad majorities support increased state spending on various programs that Democrats have expanded in recent years. Even a majority of self-identified conservatives supported maintaining higher spending levels for teacher pay, state aid to schools, renewable energy research and development, health care coverage for children and repairing roads and bridges.

If politicians evaluate our state’s needs and then search for a way to fund them, we are likely to get some changes on the revenue side of the equation. Eliminating certain tax credits could increase revenue, and Culver has created a panel that will evaluate all of the state’s current tax credits before making recommendations for state legislators.

Our state income tax structure should also be on the table. A new poll by Selzer and Associates for the Iowa Fiscal Partnership found that a majority of Iowans would support eliminating federal deductibility, which mainly benefits high-income taxpayers. During the 2009 legislative session, Culver and legislative leaders agreed on a tax reform package that would have ended federal deductibility, but Iowa House leaders were unable to find 51 votes to pass that bill.

UPDATE: More details from the Des Moines Register are after the jump.

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I-JOBS board agrees on draft rules and timeline

The I-JOBS board met for the first time on June 3. According to this news release,

The I-Jobs Board is specifically tasked with awarding approximately $165 million of funds from the I-Jobs program. Of  that amount, $46.5 million is earmarked for projects in Linn County, Cedar Rapids, Palo, Elkader and Charles City. The  remaining $118.5 million will be available on a competitive basis to support the construction of projects relating to  disaster relief, mitigation and local infrastructure.

The board approved this tentative timetable for allocating the money. The key date is August 3, when applications are due. As Governor Chet Culver’s deputy chief of staff Phil Roeder told Iowa Independent,

“Everyone in the administration understands that with I-JOBS, time is of the essence,” Roeder said. “In order to have impact on the economy, we have to move quickly.”

I was pleased to see Roeder highlight the importance of transparency for the I-JOBS program. The administration is creating a website that supposedly will allow the public to track how money is being spent. I strongly agree with Kathleen Richardson, director of Iowa Freedom of Information Council, who emphasized the need for the I-JOBS board to follow open meetings rules as well.

Citizens can find draft rules for the I-JOBS program here. You can send comments about these rules to ijobs@iowa.gov.

Meanwhile, Iowa Republicans continue to bring out their misleading talking points, such as this Twitter comment from IowaGOP,

Culver keeps pumping I-JOBS (1st mtg. today.) But how will it help create and keep long-term jobs in IA? Still haven’t heard.

How the program will create jobs should be obvious when you read which kinds of construction projects are eligible for the money (such as roads, bridges, sewers, repairing flood-damaged structures). As for how these public works will keep jobs in Iowa, what part of “quality of life” do Republicans not understand? Also, expanding broadband access in rural areas will allow more Iowans to operate internet-based businesses.

Even Iowa State Economics Professor David Swenson, whom Republicans like to quote on this subject, estimates that the I-JOBS program will create around 4,050 jobs.

Funny, Iowa Republicans don’t acknowledge Swenson’s insight when it comes to ending federal deductibility, which he considers an “archaic holdover” in our state’s tax system. But that’s a point for another post.

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Final results from the Iowa Legislature's 2009 session

The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little after 5 am today, and the Iowa Senate adjourned a few minutes before 6 am. I’ll write more about what happened and didn’t happen in the next day or two, but I wanted to put up this thread right away so people can share their opinions.

Several major bills passed during the final marathon days in which legislators were in the statehouse chambers nearly all night on Friday and Saturday. The most important were the 2010 budget and an infrastructure bonding proposal. Legislators also approved new restrictions on the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground. Another high-profile bill that made it through changes restrictions on convicted sex offenders.

Several controversial bills did not pass for lack of a 51st vote in the Iowa House, namely a tax reform plan that would have ended federal deductibility and key legislative priorities for organized labor.

Not surprisingly, last-minute Republican efforts to debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also failed.

More details and some preliminary analysis are after the jump.

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Tax reform stalled, bonding package still moving

I was expecting a showdown in the Iowa House this week over the tax reform package that Governor Chet Culver worked out with key Democratic legislators. Republican State Representative Chris Rants announced his intention to amend the tax bill so that marriage would be defined as between a man and a woman.

However, the tax bill never came up for a vote before legislators went home for the weekend. House Speaker Pat Murphy said on April 15 that he had only 50 votes in favor of the proposal:

According to Murphy, he had lined up 52 Democrats to vote for the bill, but two Democrats changed their minds after adjustments sought by the governor broadened the number of Iowans who would get a tax cut — and amounted to a roughly $50 million reduction in the amount of income taxes collected.

“All we need is one person to change their mind,” Murphy says. “…We’re still optimistic we’ll get it done before we adjourn.”

Murphy is counting on Governor Chet Culver, a fellow Democrat, to help find the extra vote that will get the bill passed.

“We still believe that it is a middle class tax cut,” Murphy says. “We still believe it simplifies the tax code and we are optimistic that we will pass it yet this year.”

Murphy may be optimistic, but I’m feeling a sense of deja vu. Two months ago House Democrats were stuck at 50 votes for the “prevailing wage” bill heading into a weekend. The governor and legislative leaders failed to find the 51st vote to pass that measure.

If Murphy’s assessment is correct, two Iowa House Democrats supported the original tax reform bill but not the deal worked out with the governor. Does anyone know who they are, and why they are refusing to get behind the revised tax bill? Do they disagree with changes to the bill, or are they spooked by pressure they are getting from anti-tax conservative activists? It would be a big mistake for the legislature to let this bill die now. Overhauling the tax system won’t become politically easier during an election year.

In other economic policy news, Jason Hancock reports today that prospects look good for three bills which, combined, would approve $700 billion in bonding for infrastructure projects in Iowa. Click here for more details about the bills and what they would pay for. The main difference between this package of bills and Culver’s bonding proposal is that the governor wanted $200 million from bonding to pay for roads and bridges. Legislators have specified that the bonds must be used to fund other kinds of infrastructure projects.

Many Iowa legislators wanted to pass a small gas tax increase this year and next to fund more road projects, but a veto threat from Culver killed that proposal. The federal stimulus package approved this year did include about $358 million in highway funds for Iowa (click that link for more details). I’m with legislators on this one. I’d rather see money raised through bonding used for other kinds of projects.

I am glad to see Democrats move ahead on the bonding bills despite a recent Des Moines Register poll. The poll indicated that just 24 percent supported “Governor Chet Culver’s plan to borrow money to speed up public works projects,” while 71 percent said the state should “pay for the projects as it has the money over time.” That’s a badly-worded poll question if I ever heard one. I’ll bet that people who say we should only take on what we have cash for right now will change their mind once bonding money starts funding projects in their own cities and counties.

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Please call your legislators about the Democratic tax reform plan

The package of tax reform proposals that Iowa Democratic leaders worked out will come up for a vote this week. The Republican Party of Iowa and various right-wing interest groups are generating phone calls and e-mails to the capitol in opposition to this plan, and are planning several protest actions as well.

This package isn’t everything I’d like to see on tax reform, but it would be a huge improvement on the status quo. As State Senator Joe Bolkcom wrote in this op-ed for the Iowa City Press-Citizen,

There is no doubt that lightening the tax burden on Iowa’s middle-class families would be a significant change in direction for Iowa tax policy. It would reverse the trend of tax changes that mostly benefit the wealthiest Iowans. Increases in sales taxes, the reliance on gambling, and the changes in income tax policies have made Iowa’s overall tax system very regressive and unfair. Those who have less pay more. Those with more pay less to support state and local services.

Our proposed reform would reward work and provide tax cuts to middle-class Iowa workers who are bearing the brunt of the national recession.

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan sent out an action alert on Monday urging Democrats to contact legislators in support of the tax changes. After the jump I’ve posted an excerpt with some details about the plan and other talking points.  

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No time like today to contact your state legislators

The 2009 legislative session is ending soon, and if you haven’t contacted your state representative or senator yet, quit procrastinating. I don’t think legislators diligently read every e-mail when the session gets busy, so I recommend calling them.

Iowa Senate switchboard: 515-281-3371

Iowa House Switchboard: 515-281-3221

I encourage you to tell your state representative and state senator that you support the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v Brien and want them to respect that ruling.

Although I haven’t had time to finish writing a post here about the tax reforms being proposed this year, I support most of what’s in the package, including ending federal deductibility. Right-wing groups are urging Iowans to call their legislators about this issue, so if you support the Democratic tax reform plan, please say so. This article describes the proposed changes to Iowa’s tax code, which Democratic legislative leaders and Governor Culver have agreed on.

Please also mention to members of the Iowa House that you want them to reject SF 432 (here’s why) or remove the Liquid Manure division in SF 432.

If you are speaking with a state senator, especially a Republican senator, please also mention that you want Shearon Elderkin to be confirmed as a member of the Environmental Protection Commission. Culver appointed her to that body last year, and she has been a good vote for the environment.

I happen to know Shearon (pronounced like “Sharon”), because we used to serve on the same non-profit organization’s board of directors. She reads widely on public policy and asks tough questions. She also is a good listener and does not view issues through the prism of partisan politics. Even after serving with her for more than a year, some of our board members did not know whether she was a Republican, Democrat or independent. (For the record, she’s a moderate Republican.)

Feel free to mention any other pending bills or tips for contacting legislators in this thread.

UPDATE: Senator Jack Hatch, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, says Gene Gessow’s confirmation as director of the Department of Human Services “is in trouble.” I posted Hatch’s speech calling for Gessow to be confirmed after the jump. If your state senator is a Republican, you may want to bring this up as well.

SECOND UPDATE: 1000 Friends of Iowa sent out an action alert regarding Elderkin’s nomination. I’ve posted that after the jump.

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The Edwards Tax Plan: Reward Work -- Not Wealth

The old saying goes:

“The only things Inevitable in Life, are Death and Taxes!”

These are both unpleasant subjects, and since political candidates can’t really do a lot about one, this diary will be exploring the other — Taxes.

John Edwards has based his campaign on hard hitting messages about the need for “Economic Parity” in our Country — this Diary will be taking a serious look at what Edwards will do about Taxes.

The Senator often says “I do not wanting to live in a Country made up of the Super-Rich and Everybody Else!”  

That’s not the America we all grew up in. Each year achieving the American Dream becomes more and more difficult. What are working people to do, in this society of Haves and Have-Nots?

Is John’s tough Campaign Rhetoric just Talk, or does he actually have the Plans to Back it up?

Turn the page, to see where the “Rhetoric meet Reality” when it comes to that annual April Ritual, most hard-working American love to hate — spelled I.R.S.

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How John Edwards would help the middle class (part 1)

originally posted at Daily Kos

Reading articles about John Edwards, I have noticed the perception that his domestic policy ideas are mainly good for poor people, while other candidates are focusing more on middle-class issues.

David Mizner wrote an excellent diary last Tuesday: “What Edwards is About.” (If you missed it, click here or here–it sparked a lively discussion.) David points out that Edwards has done the most by far to call attention to growing social and economic inequality in the United States. I encourage everyone to check out his plans to reduce poverty in this country and globally.

While I agree that Edwards is the candidate who would accomplish the most for the least fortunate, I want to call your attention to his proposals that would benefit middle-class Americans. 

More after the jump. 

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Highlights: John Edwards at the AARP forum

For the past several Tuesdays, I have been posting diaries in support of John Edwards on the front page of MyDD.

This week I wrote a diary about Edwards' performance at the AARP forum in Davenport last Thursday. I thought it was a strong debate for all who participated, but I wanted to call attention to some particularly strong moments for Edwards.

The diary is long, so I put it after the jump. I welcome your feedback.

Tomorrow night there's another MSNBC debate. I don't have high hopes for the quality of the discussion, given the format and moderation of the previous debates hosted by that network. 

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