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State lawmakers met with local constituents at the first of three scheduled “Legislative Coffees” in Mount Ayr Saturday, January 25.
District 24 House Representative Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr) and District 12 Senator Mark Costello (R-Imogene) previewed the upcoming legislative session and answered questions from approximately 20 constituents in the hour-long town hall.
Dolecheck, who enters his 24th year in the Iowa legislature, previewed what he considers priorities in the new session. He said he expected the legislature to allocate well over $100 million of new money to K-12 schools as well as continuing to work to address discrepancies in transportation costs and per-pupil costs among school districts. He also stressed new initiatives aimed at curbing problems with classroom behavior and protection for teachers who encounter that behavior.
Dolecheck was noncommittal on Gov. Kim Reynolds proposal to increase the state sales tax by one cent. “The one cent sales tax and discussions around that will remain for the rest of the session, and we’ll see how that works out” he said. “But I say were building a budget without that in place.”
Costello said much of his attention has been directed to flooding mitigation along the Missouri River as well as accusations of mistreatment at the Glenwood Resource Center and corrective measures being taken there. On the one cent sales tax increase, Costello also expressed reservations. “In the Senate it has to be at least a net neutral tax or even a tax reduction before we will do it,” he said.
Other issues Costello highlighted are a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution making the Constitution neutral on the issue of abortion, another amendment protecting Iowans’ rights to keep and bear arms, and a proposal to allow license plates to come in any color scheme as long as the plate is readable.
The legislators then opened the discussion to questions from the audience covering a range of topics.
Considerable discussion surrounded a proposal from an audience member to place a 10 cent per gallon tax on red dye diesel fuel to curb the practice of non-farm vehicles filling up with the cheaper fuel. The revenue from the tax could then be earmarked for improvements to rural roads and bridges. It was noted the proposal would be revenue neutral to farmers who could deduct the added expense from their operating taxes. Both Costello and Dolecheck expressed an interest in the proposal and suggested the idea be raised with the local Farm Bureau to gauge their interest.
Two questions were related to issues in education. Costello and Dolecheck firmly stated that no changes to the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) will come in this session. And in response to a question about past proposals calling for funding for charter schools or private schools with state tax vouchers, Dolecheck was adamant:. “I’m the chairman of the Education Standing Committee,” he said, “and there will be no bills advance this session that deal with charter schools, vouchers, or anything else.”
During the discussion Dolecheck said he would support removing some of the roadblocks to teacher certification considering the difficulty some districts have in recruiting new teachers.
Both Dolecheck and Costello agreed the state is unlikely to reverse its decision to privatize the Medicaid system in Iowa. Costello said the system is running better than it did at its inception and is curbing the rise in costs for Medicaid services. Dolecheck said the old system run by the state was unsustainable.
Dolecheck and Costello also agreed that any proceeds from any one cent sales tax increase should be directed toward projects to benefit agriculture and Iowans in general.
In response to a question about penalties for cruelty to animals, Dolecheck warned that any statute must ensure protection for livestock producers. Costello added laws are already in place to punish animal abusers.
The next Legislative Coffee sponsored by the Mount Ayr Chamber of Commerce will be held Saturday, February 22 in the Extension Office in Mount Ayr.