Government

Tax-plan smoke screen, April state revenue, state parks camping kickoff : Iowa Capitol Digest, May 1

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

TAX-PLAN SMOKE SCREEN: A Democratic state senator who is seeking to unseat Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is accusing her of using a GOP tax-plan announcement as a smoke screen to direct public attention away from her handling of the firing of David Jamison as Iowa Finance Authority executive director over sexual harassment allegations.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, one of six Democrats vying for his party’s gubernatorial nomination next month, took to the Senate floor Monday night to question whether there’s actually a tax-cut agreement as the governor and GOP legislative leaders announced in a news release late Friday afternoon.

The announcement came about an hour after the governor reversed course on comments she made earlier in the day and ordered an independent review of the work environment at the Iowa Finance Authority that led to the March 24 firing of executive director David Jamison over sexual harassment allegations.

“Last week, we had a bad news day for this current administration and then all of a sudden — tax deal, we have a tax deal. Yet here we are Monday, there’s no bill, there’s no specifics to the policy. The timing is curious,” said Boulton.

The governor and GOP leaders say they have the framework for a tax deal that Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said would cut state income taxes by $2.7 billion over six years and result in a net reduction of $2 billion once sales tax online modernization changes are implemented.

As of Tuesday, GOP legislators said they did not yet have a bill drafted for the tax-cut package and were awaiting additional runs from the state Department of Revenue to shore up details.

APRIL STATE REVENUE: The state’s tax collections were up significantly in April, but Legislative Services Agency officials said Tuesday the data was difficult to interpret due to calendar factors.

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Last month’s $179 million in state receipts marked a 42.3 percent increase but that compared to April 2017, which ended on a weekend and pushed comparative tax collections into May.

The agency said that calendar variance created a $192.7 million issue in April, which will negatively impact numbers in May.

Also, state personal tax collections in December and January from federal tax changes also have given Iowa a boost of $109.4 million due to federal deductibility.

Also, according to agency analysts, state income tax refund processing remains ahead of last year’s pace, and a significant increase in sales/use tax refunds issued this fiscal year has negatively impacted revenues by $39.2 million.

With all that, state tax collections for the first 10 months of the current fiscal year are running $443.3 million ahead of last year — a 7.9 percent increase compared to the yearly growth estimate of 2.8 percent set by the state Revenue Estimating Conference.

May is Iowa’s largest tax collection month since state income taxes are due April 30. State officials say almost $200 million was deposited into the state treasury on Monday — this year’s tax deadline.

COURTS MAINTAIN: State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio is advising Judicial Branch employees that the court system “will be able to maintain current service levels in all 99 counties” if the $177.5 million court operations budget approved by the Iowa House is adopted by the Senate and signed by the governor.

However, Nuccio said in a message to the court system’s 1,830 full-time equivalent positions that judicial officers will not be eligible for pay increases, and it is likely several positions will remain vacant to stay within the budget. The Judicial Branch has 1,830 full-time equivalent positions.

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GOVERNOR APPOINTMENTS: Gov. Kim Reynolds announced appointments to Iowa’s boards and commissions Tuesday. Among the appointees were Ruth Hamilton of Independence. Adam Hocker of Williamsburg and Sara Titus of Mount Pleasant to the Judicial Nomination Commission, District 1B and 6 and 8B, respectively; LaTasha DeLoach of Iowa City to the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council; and Susan Gessner of Watkins to the Organic Advisory Council.

These appointees are unpaid and are not subject to Senate confirmation.

IOWA ECONOMIC INDEX DOWN: The Iowa Leading Indicators Index decreased 0.3 percentage points to 108.5 in March 2018 from 108.8 in February, marking the second consecutive monthly decline, according to the state Department of Revenue.

With only two of the eight components contributing positively, state officials said Tuesday the monthly diffusion index decreased to 31.3 in March from a revised 43.8 in February, reflecting a downward change in manufacturing hours for last month.

The annualized six-month change also decreased in March, with five of the eight indicators — average manufacturing hours, average inverted weekly unemployment claims, diesel fuel consumption, the Iowa stock market index, and new orders index — experiencing an increase of greater than 0.05 percent over the last half-year.

The monthly Iowa Leading Indicators Index report is available at the https://tax.iowa.gov/sites/files/idr/ILII%20March%202018.pdfWeb address.

VOTER READY WEBSITE: Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has launched a new website, VoterReadyIowa.org, that he says will be a resource for voters in the June 5 primary elections.

VoterReadyIowa.org tells voters what forms of identification they will need at the polls, important dates and deadlines, links to register to vote, and information on how to vote by absentee ballot beginning May 7.

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Pate also is encouraging Iowans to make sure their voter registration is up to date. The website includes a short video created by Iowa City Channel 4 with assistance from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office that details the process of voting at the polls.

STATE PARKS CAMPING KICKOFF: State Department of Natural Resources officials say this weekend will mark the camping kickoff at state park campgrounds around Iowa.

From Friday to Sunday, state parks will feature more than 40 events across the state, including hikes, kayaking demonstrations, fishing clinics and much more to celebrate the start of the season, according to DNR officials.

A schedule of programs is available at iowadnr.gov/campingkickoff.

Todd Coffelt, DNR chief of state park, said advanced reservations can be made through today at https://iowastateparks.reserveamerica.com or by calling (877) 427-2757. After Wednesday, campers can use walk-in camping on a first-come, first-served basis for sites not already reserved.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We have to draw a line for acceptance of life. A heartbeat is that logical line that is now backed not only by what people understand as a recognizable sign of life, but by the advancement of science.” — Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, arguing for a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Gazette Des Moines Bureau

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