Government

State revenues up and down, governor's chief of staff leaving, record absentee ballot requests: Iowa Capitol Digest, June 1

(File photo) The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(File photo) The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A roundup of Capitol and state government news items of interest for Friday, June 1, 2018:

STATE REVENUES UP AND DOWN: State tax collections in May — the highest month of the year due to Iowa’s April 30 income-tax filing deadline — took a significant drop compared to last year, but Legislative Services Agency experts say the slump was due to timing and calendar factors rather than economic factors.

Last month’s gross state tax receipts totaled $781 million, but the net effect was $516 million after refunds and other factors were taken out.

Overall, May was off by 18.3 percent, or $115.2 million lower than the same month a year ago.

But Legislative Services Agency analyst Jeff Robinson said April 2017 ended on a weekend — which pushed receipts into May — and the state saw a significant increase in sales/use tax refunds this year, which drew down last month’s total by $87.8 million in income-tax withholding and $54.4 million in sales/use tax receipts.

However, with one month remaining in the current fiscal year, year-to-date receipts are running at $329.3 million, or 5.3 percent, ahead of fiscal 2017 and likely will end June 30 close to the yearly growth estimate of 2.9 percent set by the Revenue Estimating Conference, Robinson said.

The Revenue Estimating Conference issued revised numbers in March indicating the state should end the year at $7.16 billion — an increase of $195.6 million over fiscal 2017.

GOVERNOR’S CHIEF OF STAFF LEAVING: Jake Ketzner, longtime aide and current chief of staff to Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, announced Friday he will depart the governor’s office June 8 to pursue opportunities outside state government.

Shortly after that announcement, Reynolds said Ketzner would be replaced by Ryan Koopmans, who has served as the governor’s chief policy adviser and senior legal counsel since May 2017.

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Reynolds named Ketzner as chief of staff shortly before taking the oath of office as governor in 2017, putting him in charge of overseeing day-to-day operations in her office and the executive branch.

Ketzner has been involved with the Branstad-Reynolds administrations since 2010. He served as policy adviser and in 2014 managed the Branstad-Reynolds’ re-election campaign and later was the administration’s legislative liaison before becoming Reynold’s chief of staff.

“Jake has been an instrumental adviser and counselor to me since my first day on the campaign in 2010 through last month’s historic session,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Koopmans will assume his new role as chief of staff on June 9.

CONTRACTOR MUST REIMBURSE: A West Des Moines home-repair contractor accused of taking money for jobs he never completed must pay $129,855 and comply with several requirements to continue doing business as part of an agreement with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Joshua Joseph Auten, owner of Over the Top Construction, is accused of violating the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act and other laws.

According to the state’s petition, Auten made several misrepresentations to consumers on home-repair projects; failed to provide labor, materials or reimbursement of down payments; refused to respond to consumer complaints; failed to provide notices and follow procedures required by Iowa’s Door-to-Door Sales Act; failed to disclose that he had multiple civil judgments against him; and did business under false names.

Auten denied the allegations but agreed to the consent judgment, which was signed this week by Polk County District Chief Judge Arthur Gamble.

The judgment is to reimburse 10 consumers who paid Auten money in advance but did not receive labor or materials.

RECORD ABSENTEE BALLOT REQUESTS: The Iowa Secretary of State’s office says a record number of Iowans are voting by absentee ballot for Tuesday’s primary elections.

As of Thursday afternoon, 46,087 Iowans had requested an absentee ballot — more than any primary election in state history.

The total surpasses the 2016 mark of 44,016 and the 2014 number of 44,740.

Secretary Paul Pate attributes the record absentee numbers to competitive statewide races for both parties and for Iowa’s congressional seats.

As of Thursday, 9,623 absentee ballots have been sent to voters but not returned yet returned, Pate said.

Iowa polls will be open statewide on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For more information on voting — voters must present state IDs — visit VoterReadyIowa.org.

IOWA GAS PRICES UP SLIGHTLY: The price of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $2.85 a gallon across Iowa this week, according to AAA.

That was up a penny from last week and 55 cents per gallon higher than one year ago.

The national average on Tuesday was $2.96, up 1 cent from last week’s price.

Retail diesel fuel prices in Iowa rose 3 cents per gallon from last week’s price, with a statewide average of $3.18.

One year ago diesel prices averaged $2.47 in Iowa. The national average is $3.21 a gallon.

Iowans are coming to see some relief from the fact that the price of global crude oil dropped $4.32 per barrel this week.

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Looking at heating fuel prices in Iowa, natural gas prices rose 4 cents and ended the week at $2.82/mmBtu.

IOWA ECONOMIC INDICATORS STEADY: Iowa’s Leading Indicators Index remained unchanged in April from the previous month at 108.5 following the first two consecutive negative signals since July 2016.

Four of the eight components provided positive contributions, state Department of Revenue officials said Friday.

The annualized six-month change in the index decreased sharply to 0.5 percent in April from a revised 1.4 percent in March, reflecting weakness this spring compared to gains seen last fall.

Half of the eight indicators — average manufacturing hours, average weekly unemployment claims (inverted), diesel fuel consumption and new orders index — experienced an increase of greater than 0.05 percent over the last half-year.

The reduction in the six-month diffusion index was due to a decline in the Iowa stock market index and the national yield spread.

Also, Iowa’s non-farm employment index experienced its sixth consecutive months of positive growth in April.

The monthly Iowa Leading Indicators Index report is available on the department’s website.

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