Legislative Session “Under Way” at Eggs and Issues

Eggs and Issues - January 27, 2018

Eggs and Issues – January 27, 2018

by Allison McGuire

Oskaloosa, Iowa – Water quality, tax reform, and Medicaid coverage were the central themes of this week’s meeting of Eggs and Issues, the political public forum hosted by the Oskaloosa Area Chamber and Development Group. This week’s panel included Senator Ken Rozenboom, Representative Guy Vander Linden, and Representative Larry Sheets, fresh off their third week of the legislative session.

Moderator Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt asked the members of the panel for an update on the session and what to expect in the coming weeks. Representative Sheets began by stating that it’s “just not true” that this session will see changes to IPERS and that IPERS, which stands for Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, is “actuarially sound” and one of the “most sound pension systems in the entire country.” He summarized some of Iowa’s current accolades, including a low unemployment rate, being ranked as the best state for middle class families and retirees, additional education funding since 2011, and beginning the task of supporting farmers to deal with water quality issues with the passing of Senate File 512. Sheets reiterated that he would not be seeking reelection in the fall, saying, “This citizen legislator is honored to have served during these times and hopes those who follow me will be keen to serve you and not make it a profession. This is my last year in Des Moines, and I thank you for that.”

Representative Vander Linden began by explaining that the session is “just getting started … and the first thing in front of us, unfortunately, is we’re going to de-appropriation again.” He believes this is due to unsuccessful approximations by the Revenue Estimation Conference and that, despite Iowa taking in a revenue of “taxes and fees larger than ever, it’s not as large as the REC thought it would be, and therefore we’re going to have to take some money back.” He anticipates “the next thing will be setting state supplementary aid for education.” After these matters are resolved, he hopes focus will turn to tax reform. “Most importantly to me, as the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is the potential for tax reform. I’m very hopeful we’re going to be able to do that.”

Senator Rozenboom said that he anticipated questions about the budget and that he was “excited” about Senate File 512 passing the House earlier in the week. “I think that’s a substantial…the most significant legislation with respect to water quality in the history of the state.” He went into details about the bill and the cost-sharing programs that will direct $282 million over 12 years to point and non-point pollution sources.

Jill Van Utrecht from the New Sharon area, started off the public part of the forum by asking about funding for Iowa’s EHDI (Early Hearing Detection and Intervention) program, which was cut as of July 1, 2017. Van Utrecht’s six-year-old son was diagnosed with extensive hearing loss at the age of 2. She explained that insurance companies in Iowa are not required to cover hearing aids because they are considered to be cosmetic, and so her family depended on EHDI funding to provide the hearing aids that she recalled cost $3,800 when her son initially began wearing them in 2013. Van Utrecht asked, “What are you going to do to bring back the EHDI funding?” If this was not possible, she also inquired into the possibility of legislation mandating coverage from health insurance companies for children’s hearing aids.

Senator Rozenboom replied that he was not sure which budget that cut was in and encouraged Van Utrecht to e-mail him so that his staff can chase that information down, and “learn about it, and then we go from there.” He stated that “one of our jobs is to advocate on behalf of our constituents. We can’t always give you the answer you want, but we can understand, and maybe it’ll influence some of our judgments.”

Michelle Wayne, a citizen of Oskaloosa, raised similar concerns regarding the transition with Medicaid. Her son is a junior at Grandview University, and he is wheelchair bound due to muscular dystrophy. She shared that he has hired nine CDAC (Consumer Directed Attendant Care) providers through Medicaid and DHS, but the program is lowering the pay available to these care providers. She stated that she has been getting “the run around” and asked for contact information to find answers to “help my son finish his schooling with care providers.” Wayne said, “We need results now,” stating that she was given one week’s notice that her son’s providers’ allowed pay will be “reduced drastically.”

Senator Rozenboom again offered his e-mail (ken.rozenboom@legis.iowa.gov) and Representative Sheets provided contact information to contact the Chair of Health and Human Services in the House.

The next question came from Nathan Wilson, Oskaloosa, regarding how Senator Rozenboom’s experience in agriculture and farming might have impacted his support for the water quality bill. Rozenboom responded that “the narrative in Iowa is our water quality is terrible, and it’s getting worse…and I reject that narrative. I say our water quality is fine and slowly getting better. I can document that in any number of ways. However, I always end with these words: we’ve got to keep working at it.” Rozenboom went into detail regarding how practices like cover crops and wetlands have helped control nitrate runoff into rivers and streams. He stated that some see the $282 million taxpayer dollars over the next twelve years in the cost share programs as a negative, but he sees it as a good investment to “protect our resources and our environment in this state,” and went on to say farmers have spent $2 billion over the last ten years on these practices.

Gary Capps, Oskaloosa, asked for Representative Vander Linden’s rationale for voting against the same bill, Senate File 512. Vander Linden explained that he voted against the bill because he thinks it can be approved upon, saying the floor manager of the bill has promised this was not the end of water quality legislation for the year, and that Vander Linden hopes this is the case but fears it won’t be.

A discussion on the separation of church and state was prompted by a question from Liz Colton, a local minister, about why subsidizing private schools was a good idea. She said that “public schools are for all children, and that’s where our money needs to be, supporting public education.”

Later, the focus of the forum turned to taxes, specifically those on corporations. Diane Crookham-Johnson, an Oskaloosa resident, identified herself as a “business owner, attorney, and a lifelong Republican.” Her question was in regard to what responsibility and “skin in the game” Iowa corporations should be asked to carry when considering the budget. She spoke about “reduced taxes to businesses in this state” and referenced single-factor apportionment, which allows Iowa manufacturers to pay taxes based only on Iowa sales even if they have a nationwide profile, even while concurrently receiving R&D credits from the state. “When those programs were initially started, one of the things we looked at is that businesses needed to have additional revenue and cash so that they could reinvest in their communities.” She listed examples of the benefits that have come from these programs, including recreation opportunities, parks, entertainment facilities, and school expansions. “Those programs have worked, and businesses stepped up to the plate.”

However, Crookham-Johnson stated, “We are now getting to the point where we’re needing to cut funding to agencies and programs in this state that business can’t replace.” She emphasized that manufacturers and businesses can’t replace essential services like the Department of Corrections or provide the instructors for the community colleges that are needed to educate future employees.

She observed that the proposed Senate bill this week “saw budget cuts that were no longer taking the fat out of budgets but are taking out the very services that we need to keep our communities safe and healthy. … I’m a Republican. I believe in responsible spending, I believe in balanced budgets, but what skin are you asking businesses to have in this game?”

In response, Rep. Sheets declared that the Senate bill will not pass, that its cuts are “extreme and way beyond what the governor has asked.” He advised waiting to “see what comes out of the House before being too concerned.” He would rather Iowa have a competitive corporate tax rate, rather than offering incentives for businesses to come in, saying that Iowa has the highest corporate tax rate in the nation.

Representative Vander Linden said that Governor Reynolds’ Condition of the State address said “that she doesn’t even want to address corporate tax cuts this year, and I suspect we will probably go along with the governor.”

Senator Rozenboom took a “historical perspective” for budget items, and said that “by the way, courthouses are not going to close. It makes good headlines, it’s not going to happen.” He then detailed the increase of Medicaid expenditures over the past thirty years, saying it has gone from 6% of our total budget to 21% of the total budget. “Iowans are investing more and more and more every year into these kinds of programs, but the narrative is we’re never doing enough.” He asked, “When is enough enough?”

At that point, the Superintendent of North Mahaska Schools, Angela Livezey, asked if the representatives thought the Governor’s numbers for a 1.5% increase in spending for public education will be upheld. Senator Rozenboom answered, “No, we will not do 1.5%, or $54 million,” but mentioned that he would ask the House to pass a Senate bill that recognizes the transportation cost inequalities amongst schools across the state.

The next Eggs and Issues is scheduled for February 10th, 2018 at 8:30am inside Smokey Row and will again feature Representatives Vander Linden and Sheets and Senator Rozenboom. Aaron Riggs will moderate.

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Posted by on Jan 28 2018. Filed under Local News, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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