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Rozenboom Senate Update
The third week of the 85th General Assembly is in the books. We continue the early sparring on the issues that will dominate and define this session, primarily property tax reform and education reform. There are a lot of moving parts here under the dome. We have the agenda that Governor Branstad has defined. We also have a Republican controlled House and a Democrat controlled Senate, each with their agendas. Itís easy to be cynical about this complicated way of establishing public policy, but when all the din of political discourse dies down, itís still the best system of government known throughout history.
Being Prepared for Continued Drought Conditions:
One matter that came up in two different committee hearings this week is the continuing drought in Iowa, and contingency plans do deal with it if it continues and worsens. Most of us donít think a lot about drought in the winter months, but we are 16 Ė 18 inches low in subsoil moisture, and itís almost impossible to replace that between now and spring. State leaders must develop plans and review water rationing priorities so weíre prepared. This work will continue.
Allowable Growth Passes in the Senate:
This week the Allowable Growth bills passed out of the Senate setting the growth rate for next school year. In FY13, the current school year, the rate was set at 2% making the per pupil cost $6,001 and providing $3.9 billion to Iowa schools. Fiscal Year 14 was set at 4% providing just over $4 billion to schools.
We cannot continue to put the cart before the horse when it comes to education. Every person at the table agrees that we can make the education system in Iowa a top-tier, globally competitive system. Only after we answer some fundamental questions and provide solid solutions should we begin to talk about the funding.
Reducing property taxes was also addressed in the Senate this week. Senate File 53 transfers funds from the Taxpayerís Trust Fund to be used to supplement current funding to the Property Tax Equity and Relief (PTER) Fund, to buy down the highest additional levy property tax rates to the statewide average. The bill also states that it should be used to replace a portion of the Additional Levy related to the regular program cost that would have been property taxes with state funding. All schools will receive the benefit of the adjustment to the Additional Levy.
Reducing property taxes in Iowa is a good thing. However, the bill uses funds from the Taxpayer Trust Fund to pay for the reduction. In the future, during tough economic times this money may not be available. This would potentially increase property taxes for Iowans when they can least afford it. Senate Republicans proposed an amendment to this bill giving the Taxpayer Trust Fund money back to the taxpayer. The amendment we proposed would remove the cap on the Taxpayer Trust Fund and return these funds to the taxpayers. It is estimated that the credit would be approximately $375 a taxpayer or $750 for a family on their 2013 tax return. Democrats would not even allow a vote on the amendment. It was not taken up and ruled non-germane.
Senate Republicans brought forward a second amendment to Senate File 53 that would make the property tax relief proposed in the bill permanent. Senate Democrats objected to the permanent relief for Iowans and unanimously voted against it. Senate Republicans voted in favor of final passage of SF 53, which provided $38.9 million in property tax relief. We recognize that not enacting permanent tax relief is a step in the wrong direction. Senate Republicans will continue to work to enact permanent property tax relief.
These bills travel to the Iowa House where their future, in current form, remains to be seen. Throughout the debate over school aid funding and tax relief, Senate Republicans will continue to serve as a voice of reason. It is important to thoroughly examine the state education system and continue to serve as the taxpayer watchdog.
Protecting the Integrity of the Election Process:
Iowa elections are watched throughout the country thanks to our first-in-the-nation caucuses. Politics have always played an important role here and the election process has been something in which Iowans take pride. That does not mean the system is without flaws. Iowa Senate Republicans know voters recognize the value of having a fair and protected election system in place that allows citizens to cast their ballot without worry. We also recognize that the state election process has room for improvement in order to provide a more secure voting process. Elections may be won or lost by one vote and preventing voter fraud is a Senate Republican priority.
This week, Senate Republicans filed legislation that would require a person to provide proof of identity on Election Day to a precinct election official before being allowed to vote. A person wishing to vote absentee at the county commissioner of elections office (auditor) or satellite absentee voting station would be required to present photo identification as well.
The legislation would provide voters more than a photo ID option. It would allow voters to bring someone with a photo ID on Election Day to attest to their identity. The bill also allows students to use their school ID as long as it has an expiration date. Voters may vote provisionally on Election Day if they do not have the proper documentation. The person casting a provisional ballot will receive a statement of validity and an acceptable form of identification must be presented before the ballot is counted. The bill maintains current law allowing a person to register to vote on Election Day or in person when voting absentee to establish proof of identity and proof of residency.
Other states recognize the need to protect and enhance the voting process by securing it. Currently 31 states have some sort of voter ID requirement and 15 of those states require photo ID.
The new voter ID measures are meant to provide Iowans with greater confidence in casting their vote. Voter fraud in Iowa is a growing concern as non-citizens in Council Bluffs were recently arrested for voter fraud after casting votes when they were not eligible to do so. This is just one example of the current abuse of this all-important system. If ineligible voters were able to cast their ballots in an election skewing results and damaging the integrity of the system, it clearly needs to be fixed. Senate Republicans are committed to strengthening our election process and providing Iowans a protected voting system where every vote counts. The introduction of this bill is a common sense solution to a problem. Senate Republicans feel that any amount of voter fraud is unacceptable. The voting process in Iowa is too important to not have a voter ID measure in place.
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