116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa’s election map looks like a red cherry Jell-O mold with a few blueberries trapped inside. Yes, rural Iowans have gone all-in on Republican leadership.
Statehouse Republicans, tell them what they’ve won.
Well, Gov. Kim Reynolds is floating a plan that would eventually make every student in Iowa eligible for a $7,598 state-funded scholarship to attend private schools. The hefty price tag of such a scheme will undoubtedly take a chunk out of state funding for public schools.
That’s bad news for rural public school districts that already are struggling with declining enrollment and rising costs of doing business. Students in many of these districts won’t benefit from scholarships because there are no nearby private school options.
Also, no Republican legislative leader has taken a firm stand on advancing legislation that would protect rural landowners from having their ground taken through eminent domain to accommodate a trio of carbon capture pipelines. If no strong action is taken, reluctant landowners will be left at the mercy of politically-connected pipeline companies and the Iowa Utilities Board.
But wait, there’s more. Twelve years after Iowa voters created the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, the account remains empty. And it’s likely to stay that way, stopping potential new investments in outdoor recreation projects that could deliver an economic boost to rural areas.
During her Condition of the State speech this past week, Gov. Kim Reynolds uttered more than 4,700 words. Only three times did she say the word “rural.” And none of those instances came during her sales pitch for private school vouchers. That’s not surprising.
Last year, after a number of rural House members balked at supporting a cheaper voucher plan they knew would harm their hometown school districts, Reynolds body-checked several of them out of their seats by supporting their GOP primary opponents. The message was clear.
Reynolds wants to spend tens of millions of dollars that might otherwise fund public schools to pay for vouchers. If rural lawmakers stand in the way, she’ll take them out. If her plans end up harming rural schools, so be it.
Besides, the governor said improving public schools “isn’t about money.” Try telling that to a small town school superintendent trying to pay the bills, deal with a shortage of applicants for empty teaching positions and reluctantly curtail programs due to scarce resources.
When I think of a small town school district, I naturally think of my dear alma mater Belmond-Klemme. OK, it was just Belmond when I attended during the rotary dial phone epoch. On you Broncos, on you Broncos, buck and rear and fight! OK, sorry.
Belmond-Klemme’s enrollment has been slowly but steadily dropping. Its certified enrollment according to Department of Education figures, was 812 students in 2016-17. Its certified enrollment this school year is 740. That drop means lost state funding.
There are two very small K-8 parochial schools within 20 miles, each with roughly 30 students. But it’s a longer trip to full K-12 private schools. Mason City is 42 miles away, Fort Dodge is 52 miles away and Algona is 46 miles from Belmond. That’s a long daily commute.
So what’s in the governor’s plan for Belmond-Klemme? Based on my public school math education, I think the answer can be best represented as a fraction. Diddly/Squat.
Continued inadequate state funding, exacerbated by spending big bucks on private school scholarships will be a loss for the Broncos, as well as many of the Tigers, Bulldogs, Wildcats and Lions out there.
Parts of Wright County, where Belmond is located, also will be crisscrossed by the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline. Landowners who don’t want to accommodate the pipeline can buck and rear and fight all they want. But without legislative help, they’re unlike to win.
A bill last year that would have stopped the use of eminent domain was quietly killed. So what about this year?
“We’re hearing from enough Iowans that we feel we’ve let this process play,” Republican House Speaker Pat Grassley told the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “That’s what I said last year, ‘Let’s let this process play and see what it does.’ And now we’ve had enough of the process play through we’ve heard from enough Iowans that I think you’re going to see something. What that is exactly, I’m not in a position where I can tell you, but I know the caucus is hearing enough from their constituents.”
Seeing something would be something. I’ve seen cherry Jell-O take a more solid stand.
To be fair, Democrats aren’t exactly clamoring for action to halt the land grab. And that’s because politicians in both are parties soaking in ethanol. That’s the industry the pipelines are designed to prop up by making corn fuel appear greener. Pipeline backers are vying for billions of dollars in federal tax credits to bankroll the projects.
The Summit project is backed by Republican mega donor Bruce Rastetter, former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Jess Vilsack, son of former Democratic governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The Biden administration has made vastly increasing the availability of carbon pipeline tax credits a centerpiece of its climate agenda.
All three members of the Iowa Utilities Board, which will decide whether eminent domain can be used on the projects, were appointed by Branstad and Reynolds. The IUB already has decided pipeline companies aren’t required by Iowa law to conduct environmental impact studies.
Pipeline projects are being shoved ahead despite the fact new federal pipeline safety rules are still being written. County boards of supervisors, elected by rural Iowans, face lawsuits for trying to enact local pipeline setbacks and safety ordinances.
As for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, is floating a plan to eliminate local-option sales taxes while adding a cent to the state sales tax. The trust fund would get three-eighths of that cent, while cities and counties with local-option taxes would get the rest.
But not all jurisdictions in Iowa charge the local tax, so that would mean a sales tax increase for those Iowans. The words “tax” and “increase” attached to any bill are the kiss of death under the Golden Dome of Wisdom, now redder than ever. The smart money is on no money for the trust fund.
Do I expect any of this to turn cherry-red Iowa to blue raspberry, or even purple grape? No, not really. But I’d just be happy if rural voters considered how Republicans are taking them for granted while insulting their intelligence with manufactured fears of radical socialists, gun-grabbers and school litter boxes. These hard-to-swallow legislative actions and inactions should at least prompt them to consider breaking the mold.
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