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Last week the legislature reached the 110th day of the session, which was the deadline when legislators stopped receiving pay, and clerks were excused. The budget process is in full swing as we debated appropriations bills most of the week. Budget bills bouncing back and forth between the House and Senate provide a signal that the end of the legislative session is in sight.
Committee work this week was primarily limited to the Ways and Means committee and the Appropriations committee meeting several times. Most of the budget bills have been referred to the various conference committees, with House and Senate leadership working to negotiate differences.
Several more avian influenza outbreaks were reported this past week, with most of the outbreaks still limited to northwest Iowa. The total number of outbreaks in Iowa is now up to nearly forty, affecting more than 21 million turkeys and chickens, doubling in the last week. All poultry on infected farms must be destroyed to stop further spread of the disease.
The affected counties are Buena Vista, Sioux, Cherokee, Clay, Kossuth, Madison, O'Brien, Osceola, Pocahontas, Sac and Wright counties. Last week Gov. Branstad declared a state of emergency because of this highly pathogenic avian flu, activating more resources and supplies for tracking and monitoring, and virus elimination.
The consequences of this unprecedented outbreak are devastating to those farms directly involved, as well as it is to their employees and to related industries. While we are not sure what effects this will have on the Iowa economy, we know it will be significant, and the Legislature is keeping a close eye on the issue as it continues to develop.
Representative Larry Sheets and I have been working for three years to address some problems with the 1997 Rural Improvement Zone (RIZ) legislation. Those efforts came to fruition last week as the Governor signed House File 615 into law last Thursday. Rural improvement zones work on the same concept as TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts. The idea is to encourage the RIZ zones to improve the water quality of small lakes by allowing them to capture the property tax revenue from new development around those lakes, and to use that money for dredging, sediment control and other water quality measures.
The concept is a good one, and was created to help Lake Panorama in Guthrie County deal with water quality issues nearly twenty years ago. That has been highly successful, bringing significant development and tax base increase to a rural county. The flaws in the legislation were exposed when other Rural Improvement Zones were created because county supervisors were forced by the law to approve the zones against their wishes, because the incremental tax revenue from development was not shared with other taxing authorities like counties and school districts, and because there was no sunset provision, meaning the RIZ would continue to collect the taxes forever at the expense of counties and schools. This has led to a number of lawsuits across the state.
Our legislation corrected those flaws, successfully bringing both sides of the issue together to find common ground, and ultimately leading to unanimous support in both the House and the Senate. Itís my hope that these changes will lead to the creation of more rural improvement zones in the state which will benefit all of Iowa.
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