Government

Second annual Reason on the Hill Day for Iowa atheists and humanists, officials discuss effect of U.S., China trade dispute, frustrations with slow state income tax refunds expressed to Senate: Iowa Capitol Digest, April 10

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
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REASON ON THE HILL: The Humanists of Linn County, Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers and Tri-State Humanists had their second annual Reason on the Hill Day at the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines April 10, 2018. The groups had table displays and provided information about their organizations.

TARIFFS AND AG: Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig discusses the effect of an international trade dispute between the United States and China on Iowa agriculture during Gov. Kim Reynolds’ weekly news conference at the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday.

TARIFFS AND MANUFACTURING: Steve Sukup (pronounced SOO-CUP) of Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield discusses the effect of an international trade dispute between the United States and China on Iowa manufacturers during Gov. Kim Reynolds’ weekly news conference at the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday.

TARIFFS AND TRADE: Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses the effect of an international trade dispute between the United States and China on Iowa agriculture, manufacturers and workers during her weekly news conference at the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday.

TAX REFUND QUESTIONS: A state senator took to the Senate floor Tuesday to express frustration with the slow pace of state income tax refunds being mailed to Iowans who are due to get money back.

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, aired her concerns after a Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting to discuss the situation with Iowa Department of Revenue officials was canceled Tuesday.

“Although some money has been released, we are still behind where we were two years ago,” Jochum said. “So here’s the question: Is it a cash flow problem? Do we just not have the money in the checking account? Is someone cooking the books? What is going on? We need to have those answers.”

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Jochum said she hoped revenue officials would be able to better explain why refunds have been delayed “beyond the reason that somehow it’s because there’s some fraud-prevention measures being used that I know take about three days to implement.”

Jochum said she is being contacted by constituents who still have not received a refund after filing returns eight weeks ago.

PHONE, CABLE TAX BREAK: On a party-line vote, the Iowa House Ways and Means Committee approved a change that could lower property taxes on Iowa-based cable and phone companies by $47 million a year.

Under Senate File 2388, telecommunications companies’ land and buildings would continue to be assessed for property tax purposes. However, poles, wires and computer hardware would not be subject to property taxes, according to Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.

The change would put Iowa-based telecommunications companies on a more even playing field with long distance carriers that do not have a physical presence in Iowa and don’t pay property taxes.

Baltimore said the change could make it more likely the companies would expand farther into rural Iowa where the “last mile” costs often delay the build-out of telecommunications system.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, opposed the bill, citing a number of pending pieces of legislation that could affect state and local government revenues.

With proposals to end a property tax backfill for cities and counties, as well as ongoing discussions about changes in state income and corporate taxes, Wolfe said there is too much uncertainty to approve legislation that would reduce local government revenue.

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The non-partisan Legislative Services Bureau said the bill could reduce property tax payments by phone and cable companies to local governments by $47 million in 2024 and beyond.

SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY: Key legislators in the House and Senate, along with aides to Gov. Kim Reynolds, spent time Tuesday in rooms behind both chambers in private meetings aimed at reaching an accord on fiscal 2019 state budget targets and a state tax cut/reform package that stand in the way of adjournment.

Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, who doubles as the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, said talks are progressing, but the complexity of reforming the state’s income tax system is a time-consuming exercise that carries budget implications with each change that is made as part of the negotiations.

“We’ll get an agreement announced as soon as we’re able to get an agreement,” he told reporters. “We’re not really focused on a timeline per se. We’re focused on making sure that we’ve got the elements of tax reform that we want to have included in the final agreement and that we’re passing and agreeing to a budget that is reasonable and that Iowans would think is common sense.”

During her weekly news conference, Reynolds said the “good news” is both chambers are talking about tax reform and everyone is looking for opportunities to find compromises.

She said changes in the state’s tax policy have to be done in “a responsible and sustainable manner” while moving the state forward in meeting its funding priorities.

Schneider agreed, saying, “There are a lot of moving parts. We’ve never been under any illusion that it was going to be easy. We knew that it was going to take some time and that’s why we’re being patient right now, trying to make sure that we get good, sound policy and good reform and good relief for everyday Iowans.”

CONCUSSION PROTOCOL: After four years of work, a bill to protect student athletes against concussions is a step away from going to the governor’s desk.

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Among the provisions of House File 2442 is a requirement that a student immediately be removed from an interscholastic activity if the coach, an official or a licensed health care provider observes any signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion or brain injury.

The student would be unable to return to the sport or activity until he or she has written clearance from a licensed health care professional.

The House adopted a Senate amendment that includes a return-to-play protocol and return-to-learn plans.

It then added another amendment that Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, said would apply to students who participate in two activities in the same sports season — football and cross-country, for example. They will be barred from competing in either activity until they clear the concussion protocol.

The Senate is expected to concur with the House.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I cannot necessarily speak for the Senate, but the indications I have had that they will be comfortable with the amendments that are put in place and the bill that is being sent over. We can only hope and pray for the best.” — House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, when asked if he had assurance the Senate would accept House amendments to House File 2481 that would extend the school infrastructure sales tax for 20 years.

Gazette Des Moines Bureau

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