Legislators Talk Taxes And More At Glenwood Forum
A variety of topics were discussed during Saturday’s legislative coffee at Glenwood City Hall, hosted by the Glenwood Area Chamber of Commerce.
State Sen. Mark Costello and State Rep. David Sieck gave the approximately 20 people in attendance a summary of legislation under consideratin this session at the state capitol before taking questions and hearing comments on topics ranging from Missouri River levee certification and eminent domain to legislation for ATVs.
Costello said tax cuts are a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds and many legislators.
“We do have a large suplass to work with and one of the things we want to do with that is tax cuts,” he said. “The governor proposed a 4 percent flat tax for income tax. In the Senate we have it 6 percent and we have a goal to trying to get rid of it entirely at some point. It would be a sizeable tax cut – something we’ve been wanting to do.”
Reducing or exempting taxes on retirement income has also been discussed, Costello said.
“We have a problem with a lot of seniors that are retiring and moving out of the state because of taxes,” he said. “They spend awhile in Iowa, but they spend six months and one day in Florida or Texas to avoid the taxes. We’re trying to help keep our retirees here and then maybe recruit from other states.”
Costello said there is support in the legislature and from the governor for a fuels bill that would require every gas station in the state to offer E-15 fuel. A similar bill was considered last year but failed to pass because of concerns about the impact it would have on small independent fuel providers.
Costello said the new legislation would provide up to $50,000 in assistance to covert E-10 to E-15.
“There’s some things about it that individual fuel stations don’t really like,” Costello said. “We want to push renewable fuels in Iowa. It’s a good thing for farmers and it’s a good thing for the consumer, I believe. E-15 is generally cheaper. There are incentives for that – tax rates. This would be done by 2026.
“There were some people that last year’s bill would have been a problem for but hopefully with the waiver, it’s not going to make it difficult for them.”
Medicaid funding was anoth-er issue addressed by Costello. He said the state will start getting less Medicaid funding starting Feb. 15 as a result of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to end the COVID-19 Emergency Health Proclamation.
“Right now, we have a much lower Medicaid bill than we were anticipating and that is partly why we have more money, but we have to realize that’s going to go away back to the way it was and we’ll be spending more every year for Medicaid,” Costello said.
Sieck addressed multiple issues, including funds the state is receiving from sports gambling revenue. Sieck said he initially had reservations about allowing sports wagering in Iowa, in part because he felt the state should have received a higher percentage of the revenue. He noted, however, sports gambling revenue for the state has increased from $1.8 million 2020 to $6.1 million in fiscal year 2021. Over $1.25 billion of sports wagering took place in Iowa in 2021. Halfway through the 2022 fiscal year, the state has collected $4.9 million in sports gambling dollars.
“It’s growing,” he said. “That money goes into what we call our Reinvestment Iowa Infrastructure Fund. We do projects to better Iowa.
An accountant in the audience, Lisa Irvin, voiced her concerns about problems with new software and E-file procedures enacted by the Iowa Department of Revenue. She said the conversion has a been a “nightmare” and rolling it out at year’s end was poor timing.
“The fact that they did this in January was an utter fail,” she said. “There’s no reason we couldn’t have done this in June.”
Sieck was sympathetic, noting state agencies are also encountering problems with the new system. He said the change was made in an effort to streamline software and have all state offices working on the same network and operations system.
“It’s a major change for the state,” he said. “Our stuff is as screwed up as yours.” I think they’re going through some pain because of the changeover. I apologize for that. I think we’re all experiencing it. I think they didn’t think it was going to be that big of an issue.”
Glenwood Community School District Superintendent Devin Embray spoke up on behalf of public schools in Iowa and encouraged Costello and Sieck to support public education.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak up about public education. I think public education is taking a pretty big beating right now,” Embray said. “I think a lot of things around public education bashing are unwarranted. Do we have issues? I think we do but I really hope pragmatic minds prevail in both the Senate and the House in regards to public education.
“A bill is going through to put cameras in classrooms so anybody on the outside can just tap in and livestream into what’s happening in the classroom. You want to shut down public education, pass that bill because we will not have anybody wanting to work in public education just for the fear of all the stuff that comes with that.”
Embray also voiced concern about the amount of Supplemental State Aid (SSA) the state will allocate for local schools districts.
“I know we all are looking at taxes and we want to keep our taxes as low as possible. I appreciate that, however, if you don’t pass a certain level of SSA, you’re going to throw almost 200 school districts onto the budget guarantee that is a direct property tax increase for those communities. We won’t see that in Glenwood but a lot of districts in southwest Iowa with declining enrollments will.
“I hope you guys are looking at that chart. I would advocate for a minimum of 3 percent. We looked at our new monies and where our programming is, we’re not even going to be close. We’ll be a half a million dollars off in terms of increased costs going into next year.
Embray encouraged Costello and Sieck to support legislation being discussed that would make it easier for persons working in other fields to become teachers and a bill that would allow for management funds be used to help new teachers reduce loan debt.
Eminent domain, in regards to utility easements, Missouri River levee certification and state COVID relief dollars were among other topics discussed.
Mills County resident Karen Seipold asked how and where the state is spending COVID relief dollars. She said little information has been shared with the public about how the dollars are being spent.
Costello said Gov. Reynolds is responsive for deciding how COVID relief dollars are spent. Neither he nor Sieck could provide specifics on where the dollars have gone. Sieck vowed to get answers from the governor’s office.
“Every once in awhile you’ll see something go through that the governor allocated COVID dollars for this or COVID dollars for that,” Sieck said. “I know the economic development authority is in charge of what the counties get, but there’s a lot of strings attached to it. It has to be spent a certain way.
“I think it’s a really good question so I’m going to go back and ask it. Can we have a breakdown of what’s been spent by the governor just to help our citizens understand? I will go back and ask for that and hopefully the governor will have her staff put together ‘here’s the dollars we’ve spent so far and here’s where it has gone.’”