Telegraph Herald. Jan. 11, 2015.
Tax idea more cop-out than Iowa solution
When the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature is gaveled in on Monday, lawmakers no doubt will have Iowa's infrastructure on their list of issues.
For too many years, they have been talking about raising the gasoline tax or otherwise addressing the shortfall in Iowa's Road Use Tax Fund. They need to do something about it, and this is the year. Citizens know it. Legislators know it. The governor knows it. Iowa's infrastructure demands attention. With 2015 being a non-election year, the brief period when politicians think it might be safe to raise taxes, the timing is right.
Yet, even though our deteriorating infrastructure has been much discussed, including this window of political opportunity, there has been little in the way of real leadership. Where is a plan on how to best meet this need for Iowa's roads and bridges?
Gov. Terry Branstad floated this trial balloon last week: A local-option gasoline tax. Branstad suggested that each county could decide whether to impose a 1-cent, local-option tax on fuel. The tax would be levied only if voters approved.
The idea is a cop-out.
Iowa's infrastructure needs significant attention. That's a fact. It takes significant funding to catch up to these significant needs. What's the best way to create this funding? Well, that's why we elect smart people to represent us in Des Moines — to figure out these things and come up with a plan.
Addressing a statewide problem — a national malady, really — on a county-by-county basis seems more about forfeiting responsibility (or blame) than for making the difficult decisions for the state's long-term benefit. If we set aside the political (re-election) implications, it's hard to imagine anyone choosing a county-by-county local-option tax as the best approach.
Branstad stopped short of endorsing the local-option tax, saying he hoped lawmakers would reach bipartisan consensus. But lawmakers might well embrace the county tax idea anyway. It gives them great political cover if voters have to approve the tax increase.
So what happens, then, if Dubuque County approves the local-option tax, but Jackson and Clayton and Delaware counties do not? That's the thing about roads: They cross county borders all over the place. It wouldn't be tough for a resident near a county line to choose to always fill up in a no-tax county; that would disadvantage gasoline retailers in counties with the tax.
Branstad prides himself on his ability to surround himself with key people to find solutions to complicated issues. He was able to do that with commercial property tax fairness, another issue that dragged on for years. Regarding the road fund, the governor talked about working with state transportation officials and other stakeholders to devise a plan. What happened? We hope this wasn't the best option suggested. At best, a local-option tax could be just one part of a larger package approach to raising roads revenue statewide.
It takes political courage to suggest and support raising taxes. But we should expect courage from our elected officials. No one suggested resolving complicated funding issues would be easy. But Iowans are a pragmatic people. If lawmakers determine it takes an increase in the gas tax and other fees to address the sorry shape of our roads and bridges, people will understand that.
By most standards, the state of Iowa is in pretty good shape. State leadership has the credibility to make the decision on what's best for the state and keep things moving forward. Maintaining the state's roads and bridges is critical to a good economy. Taxpayers can understand that. What they won't understand is a political cop-out that leaves the state worse off a few years down the crumbling road.
The Des Moines Register. Jan. 10, 2015.
Investigation needed on why new penitentiary is uninhabitable
Fourteen months ago, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad cut the ribbon on a $132 million maximum-security state prison at Fort Madison.
"It's well designed," the governor told the assembled crowd. "The new facility has achieved the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's 'gold' status. It's one of the few prisons in the whole United States of America to achieve this energy-efficiency status, something you all should be proud of."
"The taxpayers of Iowa have certainly gotten their money's worth," crowed Warden Nick Ludwick. "It's time to move."
Unfortunately, these assessments of the prison's readiness, value and design have proven to be a bit off the mark.
Today, the 800-bed facility continues to sit vacant, with no opening date in sight. Major problems with the heating-and-cooling system were recently fixed, but state officials still don't know how to clear smoke from the prison in the event of a fire.
"It was not designed correctly," Iowa Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin told the Board of Corrections late last year. "This has been the most expensive problem IDOC has ever seen ... It is, in my judgment, incompetence . Somehow this building was classified as a windowless building . The prison does have windows. It has a lot of windows."
Litigation is a near certainty, but it's not the only response called for here. The Auditor of State — or another investigative body that's not beholden to the Iowa Department of Corrections — should look into this matter and find out precisely how this massive construction project, with its multiple layers of oversight, went so far off the rails.
Private contractors may have failed to do their job, but state officials should have caught such seemingly obvious problems as a "windowless" classification long before the governor smiled for the cameras and proclaimed the prison to be "well designed." There are flaws in the system of checks and balances, and they need to be identified and fixed now, before taxpayers are asked to pay for another hundred-million-dollar building.
Fort Dodge Messenger. Jan. 10, 2015.
Torture report warrants dialogue
Release of a report on CIA use of torture to get information from a few captured Islamic terrorists raises more questions than it provides answers.
While we await them, Americans ought to reflect on one important aspect of the controversy.
It is this: For many years, intelligence agencies in many nations have been accused of using torture. When was the last time you remember such accusations coming from the involved government?
To our knowledge, torture allegations have been made by many entities, ranging from human rights organizations to underground rebels. But governments simply don't admit such practices. Except for ours.
We Americans have a sense of openness, morals and self-questioning. While some Republicans and some Democrats worry about the effect of the Senate report on world opinion about the United States, many of both parties also agree the issue is one we as a nation need to debate.
Our enemies will never point that out to the hundreds of millions of people they seek to enlist against us, of course. Even as some of our more vicious foes use torture far worse than the CIA is alleged to have employed themselves, they will attempt to label Americans as villains.
More needs to be learned about the CIA's actions. A national discussion on the propriety of such action must take place. The fact both things will occur speaks well of our nation.
Sioux City Journal. Jan. 8, 2015.
Home Base Iowa deserves local support
Because we believe Home Base Iowa speaks to the responsibilities we as a nation have for meeting the needs of veterans and because we appreciate its potential benefits for our community and state, we again today encourage support for the program from local employers.
More specifically, we encourage employers to sign up for Home Base Iowa, thereby pledging to make a good-faith effort at hiring veterans.
Last year, state lawmakers passed and Gov. Terry Branstad signed Home Base Iowa legislation, a package of measures designed to make the state more attractive to veterans as they transition from military service to civilian life. The legislation included incentives related to taxes, fees, education, the purchase of homes, training for jobs and occupational licensing.
In October, city leaders launched a campaign designed to match returning military veterans with local employers in need of workers. The city hopes to become designated a Home Base Iowa community by enlisting participation in the program from at least 10 percent of local businesses, or a minimum of 175 businesses.
As of Wednesday, 41 local businesses had signed up.
For participation, Home Base Iowa asks employers to enroll in Skilled Iowa (a state program supported by more than 10,000 businesses and designed to address a shortage of skilled workers in Iowa), post job listings on the Home Base Iowa website and set a goal for the number of veterans they hope to hire by the end of 2018.
We commend local public and private support for Home Base Iowa to this point and urge more local businesses to consider making a commitment to the program and tap into the attributes and skills embodied and possessed by the men and women who served our nation in uniform.
From any perspective, Home Base Iowa is a winner. The program not only speaks to America's duty to support veterans, but it makes economic sense.
Through the participation of employers, we look forward to the contributions transitioning veterans will make to the future of Sioux City and Iowa.
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