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State senator Mark Costello and state representative Cecil Dolecheck met constituents Saturday, February 26 for the second of the Legislative Forums sponsored by the Mount Ayr Chamber of Commerce.
Costello led off the discussion by touting the recently 3.8 percent flat tax on personal income, the fourth lowest in the nation. The new tax structure will be phased in over a four-year period.
He also mentioned ongoing work on providing greater access to ethanol, increased support for pregnant women as a deterrent to abortion, and changes to youth deer tag restrictions.
Dolecheck opened his remarks with a summary of recent legislation in the Iowa House.
He, too, touted efforts to increase access to biofuels as a top priority.
In relation to taxes, Dolecheck said the House is currently examining the idea of restricting certain tax credits in exchange for a lower corporate tax structure.
Another priority was a plan to allow retired farmers to transfer ownership of their land without facing stiff upfront capital gains taxes on the sale.
Dolecheck also mentioned a plan to transfer funds from the Property Tax Relief Fund to the General Fund anytime revenue fell below 3.5 percent growth. That would allow the state to continue to fund obligations to schools, public safety, public health and others.
One other piece of legislation Dolecheck mentioned was a bill to restricting athletic competition of transgender athletes to the gender stated on their birth certificates. In other words, males who have transitioned to females would still be required to compete on male teams. Dolecheck said the Iowa Girls Union had requested the legislature to make the final decision regarding transgender competitors.
Steve Knapp asked legislators about funding for natural resources and recreation which was taken out of the final tax legislation.
Dolecheck replied the legislature continues to fund projects for the Department of Natural Resources, environmentally sensitive projects, the REAP program, and others.
Kate Zimmernan asked about the legislature’s failure to budget money to the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund for several years.
[In 2009 a bipartisan group of legislators and stakeholders unanimously recommended the creation of a constitutionally protected trust fund to provide permanent funding for Iowa’s natural resources. The amendment stated that three-eighths of one-cent revenue from the next sales tax increase will forever be allocated to the Trust Fund.
Over 90 percent of legislators in the General Assembly, both Democrats and Republicans, voted to refer the amendment to the ballot in 2010, and 63 percent of Iowa voters supported the creation of the Trust Fund.
The amendment passed as a result of work by supporters of conservation in Iowa, including a bipartisan coalition of over 120 organizations representing all of Iowa’s 99 counties.
To date, the legislature has not raised the state sales tax, leaving the Trust Fund empty.]
Costello replied many farmers are concerned that the Trust Fund’s money would be used to buy up farmland and make it public. Costello added he was against any constitutionally mandated spending.
“We would be forced to spend $200 million plus each year whether we wanted to or not,” he said.
“But for a department that has been historically underfunded… that would make a huge difference,” Zimmerman stated. “We are in the bottom three of the states for natural resources and protections on our wildlife plans… You can’t completely wipe out your entire natural resources. That’s why Iowa has some of the worst tourism.”
Dolecheck answered that such things as education and child care are higher priorities at this time.
Andy Kellner asked about Senate File 2312, which places certain restrictions on land sales in Iowa.
Kellner stated several concerns with the bill, including:
1) the state imposing a percentage cap on the price county conservation boards or the Department of Natural Resource can offer an owner for his land.
[Language from the bill states these limitations:
• timber and non-tillable – 80 percent
• low-quality cropland – 75 percent
• medium-quality cropland – 70 percent
• high-quality cropland – 65 percent]
2) the percentage caps provide incentive to out-of-state buyers to purchase tracts of land, especially land not suitable for farming. In turn, the new owner restricts access to hunting and fishing.
Kellner said a recent public hearing on the file had hundreds of people speaking against the bill and none speaking in favor. Nonetheless, the bill passed out of committee on a straight party-line vote.
Both Costello and Dolecheck said they were unfamiliar with the bill, but they would look into the matter.
Tess Rinehart asked the legislators to look into the governor’s recently announced plan to award each full-time teacher in the state a $1,000 stipend.
Rinehart said she would prefer if every school employee received the stipend or allow individual school districts to determine how best to distribute the money.
Dolecheck said he agreed that local school boards should be making those decisions, and he would work to perhaps change the way the awards would be distributed.
A third and final legislative forum will be held Saturday, March 26 in the Assembly Room at the county courthouse.
It will mark the last forum for both Costello and Dolecheck in Ringgold County.
Dolecheck is retiring at the conclusion of this legislative session.
Due to redistricting following the 2020 election, Costello’s senate district will no longer include Ringgld County.