Tinsman Banks on Experience Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Tuesday, 21 May 2002 18:00
Iowa state Senator Maggie Tinsman shares many of the concerns of Niky Bowles, her opponent in the June 4 Republican primary. (There is no Democractic Candidate.) The big difference between the candidates is Tinsman’s understanding of the nuances of state policy, the practical issues associated with solving problems, and the legislative process.

Both Tinsman and Bowles, for example, have said they’d like to eliminate pension taxes, but Bowles currently has no proposal to accomplish it. The incumbent notes that eliminating the taxes outright is an unrealistic goal in the short run; the issue primarily concerns communities bordering other states – such as the Iowa Quad Cities – but not areas in the central part of the state. While Quad Cities legislators worry that seniors are leaving to go to Illinois – because it doesn’t have any pension tax – other lawmakers aren’t as concerned. “The rest of the legislators don’t see it as a very important issue,” Tinsman said. Instead of eliminating the pension tax, Tinsman said, it would be more feasible to increase the amount of pension that’s exempt from taxes, from the current $12,000 to something along the lines of $18,000.

The only specific criticism Bowles has of Tinsman is the fact that although Scott County contributes $33 million a year to the state’s Road Use Tax Fund, it only gets back approximately $8 million. Bowles said she will “lobby to get more of our fair share.” But Tinsman explained that the issue isn’t that simple. Road Use Tax outlays are determined by a formula, and because rural issues dominate the legislature, that formula favors counties rather than cities. In addition, because Scott County has done such a good job of maintaining its rural roads, it hasn’t shown the need to receive more state funds.

Nonetheless, Tinsman said it’s time to re-visit the formula, and with more urban legislators now because of re-districting, there’s a chance it could happen. “You’re going to put money where the people are,” she said.

Both Bowles and Tinsman talk about reducing waste in state government. Again, Bowles admits she isn’t familiar with the issue and would have to research it, while the incumbent actually has a plan to do it. She supports moving state agencies to “program-performance-based budgeting,” in which departments attach tangible goals to their program budgets and have to justify – using performance measures – how they’ve spent their money. Currently, state agencies are generally funded based on how much money they were given the previous year. “You start with programs,” Tinsman said. “You don’t start with the base budget. … We’re going to hold their feet to the fire with the goals they told us.” Program-performance-based budgeting has been partially in place for the Iowa Department of Public Health for several years, and more agencies will begin using it next year.

But that’s a long-term process, and it won’t solve the state’s current budget crisis. The state will probably tap into a variety of funds to balance its budget this year, and Tinsman said she’d prefer to make the full $220 million in cuts to next year’s budget. If the economy turns around, the legislature can restore some of that money when it re-convenes in January.

Tinsman said the key to improving education in Iowa is to “attract and keep well-educated teachers here.” She noted that the state has invested $80 million in its past two budgets for teacher preparation as part of improving accountability and teacher pay in schools, and that Iowa’s commitment “has to be maintained, and it’s hard to maintain when you don’t have too much money.”

She also said the state should provide incentives for smaller school districts to merge, because drops in Iowa student performance have largely been centered in districts with very few students.

On health care, Tinsman believes that the state needs to approach its Hawk-I program more as a health-insurance program than a social service, and market it more aggressively. In it, the state buys down the premium cost of private insurance, but participation is too low.

She also said the state needs to “re-form” Medicaid, although when asked how, she replied, “I don’t know.” She suggested possibly creating a tri-state-government purchasing co-op for prescription drugs, lowering the price by increasing the size of purchases.

Unlike Bowles, Tinsman also has a body of work in the state legislature. In the past legislative session, for example, she led the charge to maintain the current income-tax-reciprocity agreement between Illinois and Iowa and also helped pass legislation to regulate child-care providers.
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