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Senate UpdateNatural Resource Concerns
Those of us who sit on the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee spent some time this week learning about some serious threats to some of Iowa’s most valuable resources. Most people are at least somewhat aware of the threat to our deer population from Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). This will be an increasing problem in the years ahead because there is no cure for the disease, it has the ability to live in the soil for many years, and since it is neither a bacteria nor a virus, no treatment or vaccine will prevent it. It appears that the only possible solution available now is to contain and slow down the disease until a way to deal with is discovered.
Another concern is the emerging threats to our tree population. Most have heard of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). It is contained in Allamakee County at this point, but is expected to spread and devastate the state’s ash tree in the next few years. Once EAB killed trees are discovered in a community nearly all ash trees in that community will be dead in five to six years. We also face threats from gypsy moths, bur oak blight and thousand cankers disease of black walnut. The economic loss from these diseases is an estimated $1.4 billion over the next twenty years, and an even greater cost in urban tree removal.
A Tax Victory for Iowans
This week Iowa taxpayers won a small victory. The Iowa Senate unanimously voted in favor of SF 106, a bill that would help every Iowa taxpayer by coupling the Iowa tax laws with the federal tax laws.
Each year, the General Assembly considers an IRC (Internal Revenue Code) Update bill. This legislation decides whether the state will incorporate into Iowa income tax law federal income tax changes enacted by Congress during calendar year 2012. Moving quickly on this bill was the right thing to do and Iowa Senate Republicans are pleased that the bill passed unanimously. We plan to continue to offer opportunities to provide tax relief to Iowan citizens. This is the work of the people, and it is our job at the Statehouse to reduce the tax burden and enable citizens to keep more of their hard-earned money.
The Iowa Property Assessment Appeals Board (PAAB) is a valuable resource that was created for the sole purpose of establishing a consistent, fair and equitable property assessment appeal process. The Board is set to end on July 1, 2013, unless the Legislature passes legislation to keep it intact. Allowing the Board to sunset would be a disservice to Iowans.
The PAAB is government working for the people. The Board offers Iowans a taxpayer-friendly recourse to appeal their property assessments and taking that away is simply wrong. Appealing property tax assessments can be a lengthy and costly process, but having a board in place with experts on the panel gives taxpayers an opportunity to have their voice heard. Dissolving the Board means Iowans will have to take their appeals to court which is a costly and complicated route.
Senate Republicans would like to see the PAAB continue, and Senate Democrats agreed to work with Republicans in an effort to find a solution. Removing this board from existence is the wrong thing for our state. Legislators need to be focused on providing property tax relief and reform for Iowans and Iowa businesses. It is also important that Iowans are able to have their voice heard when it comes to property assessment appeals. Senate Republicans hope that as negotiations continue, the board will be retained, as it is serving the taxpayers of Iowa as initially intended.
Expanding Medicaid in Iowa
The state of Iowa is facing a very big decision about Medicare expansion. I am receiving more correspondence about this than all other issues combined. The question is: Should we opt-in to Medicaid expansion, or should Iowa stay independent and follow through on its promise to deliver Medicaid to citizens and demand better health outcomes? This is a complicated matter, and I’ll present both points of view.
Currently, states are asked to opt-in to the system, essentially expanding Medicaid, enrolling more people and becoming dependent on the federal government for additional funding. This buy-in would place approximately 150,000 more Iowans on Medicaid. That would cost billions, and mandate that states meet many requirements for years to come.
Proponents will say that the benefit of the expansion is that the federal government will pay 100% of cost for the newly eligible person for the first three years. After that, the federal government will cover up to 90% for newly eligible persons. Opponents believe that the federal government will not be able to uphold this promise. For several years Washington has been spending $1.40 for every $1.00 of revenue. In order to balance the budget, the feds would have to cut around $1.3 trillion out of the annual budget. With a $1 trillion annual deficit and $16.4 trillion debt, many do not believe Washington will be able to keep a commitment to fund Medicaid as it is, let alone fund the additional expansion costs. Any federal cuts to Medicaid commitments will mean additional spending requirements for Iowa, and make future funding commitments is next to impossible.
Another option is to redesign and extend Iowa Cares. This program provides limited services for people who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The purpose is to provide some health care coverage to people who would otherwise have no coverage.
The debate on this issue will continue, and I will continue to study all sides of this difficult matter.
Feel free to contact me regarding issues that are important to you.
Senator Ken Rozenboom
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