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State Pension-Fund Shortfall Grows to $5.7 Billion PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 10 February 2012 06:29

The gap between the promises Iowa has made for public employees’ retirement benefits and the money set aside to pay for them has grown to $5.7 billion – a 1,643-percent increase over 11 years, State Auditor David Vaudt said Monday.

“We had just a $327-million liability at the end of 2000. That has now grown to $5.7 billion, and that’s equal almost to one year’s general-fund budget,” Vaudt said. “We’re going to need substantial resources in the future to improve the funded status of this particular plan.”

A report last year by State Budget Solutions, a national not-for-profit advocating for fundamental reform of state budgets, pegs Iowa’s unfunded liability as even larger – $21.3 billion as of last March.

 
Iowa Will Attempt to Follow Nevada and D.C. with Online Poker PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Saturday, 04 February 2012 05:59

Jody Miller played online poker for three to four years before the government cracked down on the practice a couple of years ago.

Before that, Miller said, online poker was technically never legal, but the laws were rarely enforced. Increased government enforcement, he said, made it more difficult to play and caused some online poker Web sites to shut down. Some players saw their assets frozen and become tied up in online accounts.

Miller, 34, of Indianola, said it’s time for Iowa to legalize online poker.

“I think it’s an opportunity to capture some funding if you can legalize it – for the state to capture the revenue. Now’s the time to do it,” Miller said. “I think people are doing it anyway.”

Iowa Senate State Government Committee Chair Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) said the federal government has done a poor job of telling Americans what is legal in terms of online poker.

Danielson said he plans to introduce a bill this month that would legalize online poker in Iowa. He said the nation had a tremendous rise in poker activity until 2009. At its peak, he said, Iowans were spending close to $100 million outside the state on online poker.

 
Bill Calls for University Presidents to Feel the Pain of Tuition Hikes PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 03 February 2012 09:33

If students enrolled at Iowa’s state universities have to pay higher tuition, university presidents should share the pain, some House Republicans said.

“This is about making accountable a person that is receiving a half a million dollars in tax dollars to run an institution,” said state Representative Jeff Kaufmann (R-Wilton). “This is not about denigrating the university. This is about improving it on behalf of the taxpayers and the students of the state.”

Especially infuriating some House Republicans was University of Iowa President Sally Mason’s hiring of two highly paid assistants during tough budget times. Tysen Kendig was hired as vice president for strategic communication in February 2010 and is paid $280,000; Mark Braun was named Mason’s chief of staff in October 2008 and makes $200,000, lawmakers said. Kaufmann called the hirings “absolutely indefensible.”

 
City and County Officials: Help Us Fix Our Roads PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 27 January 2012 10:15

City and county officials expressed frustration and a sense of helplessness January 24 over the lack of money to repair crumbling roads and bridges.

The local-government leaders argued strenuously at a Transportation Day 2012 event at the Wallace State Office Building that it’s time for the state to increase the gas tax to upgrade infrastructure. But Republican Governor Terry Branstad insisted the state must first show taxpayers it’s being efficient with money it already has.

Keokuk County Supervisor Mike Hadley said his county will have to close five bridges this year – including bridges that connect rural and agricultural areas to market towns – because they’re in such disrepair. He said rural America can’t grow if it doesn’t maintain its infrastructure.

“We can’t cut any more pencils and paper clips,” Hadley told the governor. “This has gone on too long. We have to act. Nobody wants to do this, but we have to ... . We can’t continue to just close down our infrastructure, because it never reopens.”

 
Taxpayer Group Vows It Won’t Be Alone in Opposing a Gas-Tax Hike PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 11:51

As momentum builds for a measure to increase Iowa’s gas tax to pay for the state’s roads and bridges, a taxpayer-advocate group is one of the lone voices opposing the plan.

Lindsay McQuarry, policy director for Iowans for Tax Relief – a Muscatine-based not-for-profit that supports reduced state-government spending and lower taxes – said her group won’t be alone for long.

“It is an uphill battle, but it’s something that Iowans are going to be outraged by once this picks up steam,” McQuarry said. “I don’t think this is something that has the support that the special-interest groups would like to lead people to believe.”

A proposal before the legislature would have the Iowa Department of Transportation find $50 million in savings for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The plan would then increase the gas tax by 8 cents a gallon over the next two years, starting in 2013. It would also increase registration fees for new vehicles from 5 percent to 6 percent of the purchase price. The increase would generate about $180 million a year when fully implemented, lawmakers said.

 
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