Legislative forum hits on IPERS, tax credits


Sen. Tod Bowman and Sen. Dan Zumbach

Rep. Lee Hein and Rep. Andy McKean
By: 
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Several new legislative topics came to light during the Feb. 16 Jones County Economic Development forum in Anamosa.

     Sens. Tod Bowman and Dan Zumbach and Reps. Lee Hein and Any McKean were all present to offer their insights into the happenings in Des Moines now that the first funnel week has come and gone.

School safety

     Bowman said one bill that fortunately and unfortunately received some timely attention last week detailed a mandate that all school districts in Iowa have safety and evacuation plans in place. Bowman said sits on the subcommittee working on the bill, and said discussion coincidently started the day before the Feb. 14 mass school shooting in southern Florida.

     “In the subcommittee, it came out that only 80 percent of Iowa’s schools have a plan in place,” he said. “It was obvious once I read the bill that this was a good thing.”

     Bowman said the only change being implemented to make those schools’ plans private rather than a public document. “We don’t want the public to know the plan; we just want them to know that we have a plan.”

School transportation costs

     McKean said upon their return to Des Moines on Monday, Feb. 19, the House plans to discuss the school transportation equity bill.

     “It will do some tremendous things for the unfair transportation costs that rural (school) districts have to carry,” he said. “We have districts that are paying as much as $1,000 per student to get the kids to school, while there are urban districts that are spending truly nothing. The bill is going to put $11.2 million right directly to the districts that need it the most.”

     For example, the Midland School District, McKean said, could expect to see over $100,000 for their transportation costs, “which is going to be a tremendous help for that small district.”

IPERS

     The question was asked whether the legislature planned on making changes to the state’s IPERS program. Hein simply indicated, “Absolutely not.

     “It’s probably one of the healthiest retirement programs in most all of the states. I don’t see any reason why we would want to make changes, other than every once and a while, periodically, we look at it and make some changes depending on how that’s working.”

     McKean and Bowman both offered different thoughts on the program.

     “We do need to be willing to revisit all of these important issues every so often because there are some disquieting signs for the future,” warned McKean. We have more and more older people. People are living longer. There are fewer young people in the state. We want to make sure that IPERS continues to be a successful and sustainable program and available for the long-term.”

     He said that might entail making some modest changes.

     “We can’t do the same thing they do in Washington and just pretend we’re never going to look at a problem,” added McKean.

     Bowman said while it won’t happen this session, he expects they’ll take up IPERS next year. He said Sen. Charles Schneider, the chair of Appropriations Committee, is looking at making significant changes to IPERS.

     “He’s not the majority of the senators,” said Bowman. “There are different discussions out there that would reveal a more drastic switch. But we have to keep an eye on it to be solid.”

     Bowman said he’s not for radical changes, but he is keeping an open mind to possible changes down the line.

Tax credits/Endowment tax credit

     Patty Manuel, JCED board president and board member of the Jones County Community Foundation, told the legislators that she would like to see the state’s endowment tax credit stay in place.

     “They (endowments) bring a lot of money back into our county,” she said. “A lot of people donate to a foundation because it’s very beneficial to their county.”

     Zumbach said with 40-some tax credits in the State of Iowa, he believes that if Iowa’s tax rate was lower, the state could do away with some of the tax credits.

     “It’s a picture that your tax rates are too high if you have to constantly give someone a credit,” he said. “That’s part of our whole tax problem.

     “If you lower the rates, a lot of credits will disappear,” he thought.

     Zumbach said the difficulty lies in that those credits were put in place for a reason years ago, and it would be hard to eliminate them if they’re useful or helping the state’s economy.

     Bowman completely disagreed.

     “If we lower taxes, we’re still going to have almost all of these tax credits,” he countered. “Everyone is going to be competing to try and maintain their tax credits. And there are always more asks.”

     He said it’s not the state’s high taxes that created the need for the tax credits, it’s “an incentive for behavior to change.

     “We want to incentivize a certain behavior, whatever that is. We’re in this huge competition for jobs. Countries are competing for jobs. Once we get those jobs to the United States, other states compete for them. Once we get them in Iowa, we’re competing in regions. We’re constantly doing this. These businesses shop around for who’s going to go to the lowest denominator when it comes to tax credits. So no matter where we put the tax rate at, there’s going to be people looking for tax credits.”

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