Government

State tax refunds ahead of last year's pace, cold weather hurting crop starts, removal of online learning cap makes progress: Iowa Capitol Digest, April 2

(File photo) The dome of the Iowa State Capitol building from the rotunda in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Suspended across the dome is the emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The emblem, painted on canvas and suspended on wire, was placed there as a

reminder of Iowa's efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) The dome of the Iowa State Capitol building from the rotunda in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Suspended across the dome is the emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The emblem, painted on canvas and suspended on wire, was placed there as a reminder of Iowa's efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Monday:

STATE TAX REFUNDS SPIKE: State revenue fell by nearly 30 percent last month, but fiscal 2018 year-to-date receipts are running 5.1 percent higher than the comparable first three quarters of fiscal 2017.

Along with calendar and timing issues, the Legislative Services Agency said March’s tax collection reflected three major factors, including state income tax refund processing running ahead of last year’s pace.

Tax refunds issued last month totaled $217.8 million — an increase of $121.3 million compared with March 2017.

There also was a significant increase in sales/use tax refunds issued this fiscal year that had a $40.6 million negative effect on revenue.

According to the LSA monthly report, the net general fund revenue last month totaled $163.4 million — a drop of 29.9 percent. But year-to-date receipts were $265.4 million, up 5.1 percent compared with a year ago.

At the same time, the recent federal income tax cut increased estimated state income tax payments that were received in December and January by $109.4 million.

KENNEY HIRED FOR NO. 2 AG POST: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced Monday that Julie Kenney has been hired as deputy secretary for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

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“Julie has a passion for agriculture and will be a tremendous asset to the department,” said Naig, noting she began her duties with the department Monday.

“Her background and experience are a natural fit,” he added.

As deputy secretary, Kenney — who grew up on her family’s crop and livestock farm near Lohrville — will assist in management responsibilities focused on personnel, budget and policy.

She also will represent the department at meetings across the state, Naig said.

Before joining the department, Kenney was active in the agribusiness industry for nearly 15 years, serving in marketing and communications roles for private industry and agricultural associations and checkoff programs. Kenney and her family own and operate a corn and soybean farm in Story County.

FIRST CROP REPORT: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, in his first weekly crop report, issued Monday, said cool, wet weather kept farmers out of their fields and created challenges for cow/calf producers who are in the midst of calving.

“This weather pattern could stay in place and continue to prevent farmers from getting a start on spring fieldwork,” Naig said.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service there was just 0.4 of a day suitable for fieldwork statewide in Iowa last week.

Topsoil moisture levels were rated 3 percent very short, 9 percent short, 73 percent adequate and 15 percent surplus, while subsoil moisture levels were rated 4 percent very short, 14 percent short, 74 percent adequate and 8 percent surplus.

Parts of south-central and southeast Iowa remain in abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions.

SENATE CONFIRMATION: The Iowa Senate voted 45-2 on Monday to confirm the appointments of 163 appointees made by Gov. Kim Reynolds to state posts, boards and commissions, effective May 1.

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The vote was taken “en bloc,” meaning all nominees were approved in one confirmation vote.

Among those confirmed were Steve Lukan as executive director for the Iowa Commission on Veterans Affairs and former state legislators Kraig Paulsen and John Putney to the state Transportation Commission.

Two other former legislators — Mike May and Josh Byrnes — joined the Iowa Board of Education, along with Kimberly Wayne.

Other notable confirmations were Emily Schmitt to the state Economic Development Authority Board, Dr. Mary Chapman to the state Board of Corrections, Sherrae Hanson and John Quinn to the Iowa Lottery Authority Board, Mary Romanco and Kyle Ulveling to the Iowa Board of Medicine, and Jason Wilson to the state Alcoholic Beverages Commission.

SENATE FLOOR ACTION: The state’s cap on students enrolled in online learning would be eliminated under a provision approved in a bill passed 28-19 and sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The issue was included in a wide-ranging K-12 education policy bill (Senate File 475) that Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said was moving to the governor but likely will involve further clarifications financial literacy and curriculum development.

Senators accepted changes made in the House, where Democrats warned the provision to eliminate the online cap would threaten enrollment at small rural schools. But majority Republicans argued that eliminating the enrollment cap would provide more school choice options for parents and students.

Also Monday, senators voted 46-1 to send the governor Senate File 449, a bill that permits a landowner to install cattle guards on a street that terminates into a dead end and the owner has property on both sides of the roadway.

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In passing the bill, senators approved House changes that require the requesting landowner to demonstrate liability insurance to county and lowers the speed limit on the street to 15 mph.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Many Iowans face a choice of going broke or going without insurance, and that’s not really a real choice.” — Gov. Kim Reynolds during a Statehouse ceremony to sign a bill into law allowing unregulated health plans created by associations of employers or sponsored by certain agricultural organizations.

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