Business & Economy
"Rebuilding the Middle Class: What Washington Can Learn from Iowa” PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Monday, 30 January 2012 15:35

Statement of Senator Harkin (D-IA)

At the HELP Committee Field Hearing:

“Rebuilding the Middle Class: What Washington Can Learn from Iowa”

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Thank you all for being here today. Last May, this Committee, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, held the first in a series of hearings to examine the state of America’s middle class. In addition, last summer, my state staff visited all of Iowa’s 99 counties to hear directly from middle class Iowans.

“As these events have made clear, our once-great middle class has been severely shaken. A strong America is built on a strong middle class, which means good jobs, steadily improving wages and benefits, economic security in our golden years, and hope for the future. Yet today, more and more people are struggling just to make ends meet. Their jobs are insecure, their savings and pensions have shrunk, and they are profoundly worried about the future. At the same time, income and wealth inequality are at extremes not seen since immediately before the Great Depression.

“For this reason, it is clear to me that the foremost economic challenge we face today is fostering the recovery of our middle class. I was very pleased to hear President Obama echo this view in his State of the Union address and during his recent visit to Cedar Rapids. As the President made clear, the basic bargain that built the middle class – if you work hard and play by the rules, you will be able to get ahead and give your children a better life – has broken down for too many people.

“For this reason, I am pleased to be here at the Blong Technology Center today to learn about how the Quad Cities is confronting these challenges head on. The Quad Cities, and eastern Iowa more broadly, have experienced tremendous economic changes in recent decades. In response, communities have pursued smart, creative economic development strategies to attract businesses that will grow their middle class. I hope to learn more today about the public-private partnerships, like those at Eastern Iowa Community College, that bring together local government, education and job-training programs, workers, and private-sector employers to create good jobs in the community.

“I also look forward to hearing more about the role that manufacturing has played in your local economy. This community knows very well that much of our manufacturing base has been sent overseas, while improvements in technology have made it possible for companies to produce more and more with fewer and fewer employees.

“Manufacturing, however, remains vitally important to this region. Indeed, as a nation, we cannot rebuild our economy and our middle class without rebuilding our manufacturing base. Washington needs to hear from communities like yours, those that are preserving and growing their manufacturing sectors, about how to encourage companies to keep and create good manufacturing jobs here in America.

“Last June, I invited Amanda Greubel, from just up the road in DeWitt, to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in Washington. Amanda, who, I’m pleased to say, is able to join us again today, said this to the Committee: ‘I hold out great hope that this is not the end of this discussion, that you will return to your offices and your states and you will continue to ask everyday Americans like me what they really need.’ Well, Amanda, that is why we are here today – and that is why, in the year ahead, this Committee intends to continue to put rebuilding the middle class at the center of its agenda. We will hold hearings in Washington to give a voice to hard-working middle class Americans, and we will champion legislation that will strengthen our economy, create jobs, and help middle class families.

“Simply put: there can be no real economic recovery without the recovery of the middle class. I look forward to hearing from our panels today about how we can move forward aggressively on this front.

“The middle class is the backbone of this country and it is time that Congress showed the backbone to not only defend it, but grow it.”

###

 
On Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day, IRS and Partners Launch Outreach Campaign to Low- and Moderate-Income Workers PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Christopher Miller   
Monday, 30 January 2012 15:30
Iowa Residents Received $414 Million Last Year

IRS YouTube Videos:  Earned Income Tax Credit:  English | Spanish | ASL

Podcast: Earned Income Tax Credit

MILWAUKEE, January 27, 2012 — The Internal Revenue Service and community partners nationwide today launched their annual outreach campaign aimed at helping millions of Americans who earned $49,078 or less take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

In Iowa last year, around 207,000 families received approximately $414 million in EITC with an average being being $1999.

Today, Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day, local officials and community organizations across the nation are holding news conferences and sponsoring other events highlighting the benefits of this key work incentive for low-and moderate-income workers and working families.

"The EITC provides a financial boost for millions of hard-working Americans. But people can easily overlook this important credit, especially if their financial situation has changed. The IRS reminds taxpayers to look into this valuable credit to see if they qualify,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.

The outreach campaign is necessary because one-third of the eligible population changes annually as their financial, marital and parental statuses change.

“Although an estimated four out of five eligible workers and families get the credit, one in five still miss out on it, either because they don’t claim it, or don’t file a return at all,” said Christopher Miller, IRS spokesperson for Iowa. “That’s why it’s important to continue to raise awareness.”

The EITC varies by income, family size and filing status. People can see if they qualify by visiting IRS.gov and answering a few questions using the EITC Assistant. In tax year 2010, almost 26.8 million eligible workers and families received over $59.5 billion total in EITC. The average EITC amount last year was around $2,200.

Workers who earned $49,078 or less from wages, self-employment or farm income last year could receive larger refunds if they qualify for the EITC. That could mean up to $464 in EITC for people without children, and a maximum credit of up to $5,751 for those with three or more qualifying children. Unlike most deductions and credits, the EITC is refundable. In other words, eligible people may get a refund from the IRS even if they owe no tax.

How to Claim the EITC

To get the EITC, workers must file a tax return, even if they are not required to file, and specifically claim the credit. Those eligible for the EITC have free options to file a tax return to claim the credit:

·        Free File on IRS.gov Free brand-name tax software walks people through a question and answer format to help them prepare their returns and claim every credit and deduction for which they are eligible. The program also allows people to file electronically for free, giving them access to all their money often in as little as ten days.

·        Free tax preparation sites EITC-eligible workers can seek free tax preparation at more than 12,000 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites. To locate the nearest VITA site, people can call the IRS at 800-906-9887. Taxpayers can also find VITA/TCE sites by calling their community’s 211 or 311 line for local services.

·        IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers EITC-eligible workers can seek free assistance in IRS locations across the country. Locations are listed online at www.IRS.gov. Hours and services offered vary by location and should be checked before visiting.

More information on EITC and detailed eligibility rules are available at www.irs.gov/eitc.

–30–

 
Grassley Urges Washington to Stay Focused on Getting People Back to Work PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 30 January 2012 15:29

During his weekly video address, Senator Chuck Grassley discusses the need for job-generating tax policy, spending reductions, regulatory relief, trade agreements, and energy development, as well as respect for the checks and balances that have helped to define America’s system of government for 235 years.

 

Click here for audio.

Here is the text of the address:

I held meeting with Iowans in 36 counties this month.  People at the grass roots are looking for leadership.  13 million unemployed workers need to know that Washington can take action to help get people back to work and move the country in the right direction.

Workers, employers and entrepreneurs need an environment where the economy can improve and jobs can be created.

Taxes, especially tax certainty, are a major factor.  One of the biggest tax increases in history will happen at the end of this year if Congress and the President don’t stop it.  Small businesses, where most new jobs are created, would be hit hard

Government spending needs to be reduced.  The problem isn’t that taxes are too low, it’s that Washington spends too much.  Massive federal debt gets in the way of economic growth.  So does the heavy hand of government regulation, and it must be lifted.

American workers also need new export markets for the goods and services they manufacture.  They need an energetic and enthusiastic effort to establish new international trade relationships for the United States.

The economy benefits from affordable energy, so domestic production has got to be a priority and a reality.  Even so, President Obama is denying the Keystone XL pipeline project.  This infrastructure project would create as many as 20,000 jobs.  The President’s position works against creating jobs and getting people back to work.

Since 2009, President Obama’s big spending stimulus and government intervention has failed in terms of job creation, economic growth and fiscal responsibility. We need a new direction.

On top of that, President Obama seems determined to test and even exceed the powers of his office.  America has a system of checks and balances that’s generally worked for more than two centuries.  The President’s interest in putting the executive branch above the other branches of government is unconstitutional and counter-productive.  It’s something Americans rejected 235 years ago.

Today, finding common ground with the elected representatives of Congress would be more productive than trying to govern by edict from the Oval Office.

 

 
AARP Statement on today's HF561 Senate Subcommiittee Hearing PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Ann Black, AARP   
Thursday, 26 January 2012 16:27

Des Moines, January 26, 2012 -- AARP today urged the Iowa Senate Commerce subcommiteee chaired by Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) to listen to and act on behalf of the interests of Iowa ratepayers rather than the powerful utility company lobby as  they consider changing Iowa law to allow advance ratemaking for new nuclear power as proposed in HF 561.

 

The question for AARP is not whether or not Iowa should consider building a nuclear power plant, the question is whether we should change the way Iowa builds and pays for multi-billion dollar utility projects and who bears the cancellation risk for these ventures.

 

There has been a lot of discussion about this amendment and how it supposedly protects consumers.  It needs to be stated clearly and publicly that neither AARP nor any other opposing consumer or business group concerned about this legislation has had part in crafting this amendment.  If this is bill passes, then Iowa ratepayers are in serious trouble.

 

A recent Iowa Utilities Board staff memo analysis of amended HF 561 confirms AARP’s concerns that this version not only fails to protect consumer interests, the proposed changes it makes to Iowa law would actually create incentives for utilities to behave in a manner contrary to the public interest.

For example, the IUB staff memo says that HF 561 “would shift nearly all of the construction, licensing and permitting risk associated with one or more nuclear plants from the company to its customers.”  The legislation does this by pre-approving spending and guaranteeing utilities can recover pre-approved prudent costs, “including a profit on capital investments.” (Page 3, section 3)

 

AARP is concerned about keeping utility rates affordable and accessible, especially for for aging Iowans on fixed incomes.  November 2011 data shows that despite the fact that Iowa had a relatively mild winter, near record numbers of Iowans were still behind on their utility bills.

 

AARP opposes the language of the HF 561, which the IUB staff memo confirms significantly shifts risks from utility companies and their shareholders to ratepayers.  We’ve heard the comment, “what’s a dollar or two dollars more a month to meet Iowa’s future demands.”

 

First, no one knows if the cost will be a dollar or two more or $20 or more a month.  Plus, Iowa’s future demands haven’t been defined for the legislature yet.  A report from the $15 million-taxpayer-funded project approved two years ago for MidAmerican to study Iowa’s energy needs hasn’t been released yet.  These are the unknowns.  Legislators need to consider what we know about this issue.

 

  • Iowans, especially those on fixed incomes are already struggling with already utility costs;
  • Iowans care about this issue – more than 1,000 have called the Iowa Senate since the opening of the session to oppose this legislation;
  • A majority of Iowans 50 and over – 72 percent according to a spring 2011 AARP poll by Selzer & Co. - are opposed to this legislation;
  • And, nearly 6 in 10 of those surveyed indicated they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for state office who supports this legislation.

HF561 is a game changer and an expensive raw deal for ratepayers.  We urge you to stand with Iowa ratepayers and oppose this bad deal for all consumers – residential, commercial and industrial.

 

--Anthony Carroll, AARP Iowa Associate State Director for Advocacy

 

 

 

 

Ann Black

AARP Iowa Associate State Director for Communications

600 E. Court Ave.

Des Moines, IA 50309

515-697-1003/515-707-1287 (cell)

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 
Teachers across the nation work for their labor unions during school hours, with taxpayers covering much of the cost PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by By Victor Skinner, EAG Communications   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 13:40
DENVER – Across the United States, taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize the salaries and benefits of teachers and other municipal employees who work for their local labor unions.
This wasteful tradition costs taxpayers millions each year, and has gone largely unnoticed because the details of the arrangements are most often negotiated behind closed doors.
Luckily this practice, popularly known as “union release time,” may be coming to an end in many parts of the nation.
Severe budget problems in California, Colorado, Arizona and other states have increased scrutiny on labor spending, with critics highlighting union release time as a disgusting waste of taxpayer money at a time when most schools and municipalities can least afford it.
Education Action Group has documented different forms of union release time in our reviews of teacher contracts in numerous states, and the issue has been probed in depth by researchers like Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center.
Educators are often released from their regular duties with pay - either full-time, part-time or on a per-diem basis – to serve as union officials. They are free to use school time to handle grievances, attend collective bargaining sessions, lobby government officials, do political work, and perform other union-related activities.
Recent media reports from Denver and lawsuits filed in Arizona and California are bringing needed attention to the unnecessary expense, the first step in provoking corrective action.
The issue is coming to light most often in states and individual school districts with large budget deficits, including Colorado, where the Denver Post recently published a detailed report on union release time in the state's 20 largest districts.
The newspaper’s findings confirmed what EAG and DeGrow have already exposed: taxpayers are subsidizing the state’s wealthy and powerful teachers union by millions of dollars each year.
The ugly, expensive truth
Colorado’s 20 largest school districts with union contracts spent a combined $5.8 million on salary and benefits over the past five years for school employees to work for their local teachers union, according to the Post.
The stipulations of the arrangements varied by school district – from full time off at full district expense to a set number of days with union reimbursement for a portion of the cost. In recent years, the most expensive agreements cost taxpayers in Douglas County, Adams 12, and Brighton 27 districts $1.3 million, $629,457, and $626,118, respectively.
The Denver Post found that only one of the 20 union contracts reviewed did not require the school district to spend tax money on release time for union business.
Colorado StateTreasurer Walker Stapleton put the issue in plain terms for the Post.
“It’s a shame the money isn’t getting into the classrooms and to students,” he said. “It’s another example of the stranglehold that unions have on education funding in Colorado.”
Unfortunately, the problem extends far beyond the Centennial State.
EAG has documented union release time clauses written into teacher contracts in Michigan, New Jersey, Colorado, Indiana, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Ohio and other states. In many cases, we submitted public information requests for the cost of this union perk, and the results ranged widely based on the details of the agreements and the size of the districts.
In Ohio’s 18,000-student Lakota school district, for example, the local union president was granted half time off from teaching duties during the 2008-09 school year to work for the union at taxpayer expense. The union chipped in for a quarter of the expense, but the provision ultimately cost Lakota schools $38,000 in 2008-09.
At the Paterson school district in New Jersey, the union contract stipulates that the district must release several union officers from their school duties with full pay and benefits. Three district employees were released from their duties for the entire 2009-10 school year, and all were paid over $100,000 in salary by the district. The teachers union reimbursed Paterson schools for more than half, but taxpayers were left on the hook for $80,000.
We’ve also found expensive union release time provisions from contracts in Michigan and Indiana. The Rochester, Michigan district paid about $120,000 in total compensation for a teacher who worked full time as union president during the 2008-09 school year. The price tag was about $130,000 in the Troy school district, $50,000 in Ann Arbor, and $75,000 in Kalamazoo during the same school year.
Indiana’s Fort Wayne schools subsidized its union president’s compensation by nearly $25,000 in 2009-10.
The irony is that those same union officials use their paid release time to pressure school boards to increase salaries and benefits, and the financial burden on residents. It’s a disgraceful circle of tax and spend that is leaving knowledgeable taxpayers dizzy and nauseous.
What makes matters worse is that many schools do not track the amount spent on union release time.
“It’s bad enough that they pay for union release time at all, but to not even have a basic level of accountability, especially in these tighter budget times?” the Independence Institute’s DeGrow told the Denver Post. “It’s kind of appalling.”
Getting tough
With school budgets drying up, the pressure has increased for district and labor officials to cut back or eliminate union release time. In Colorado’s Douglas County, the district’s new superintendent, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, cut payments for the union leave nearly in half last year, and is expected to eliminate it altogether in the coming weeks.
“Going forward, my responsibility is to do what’s right for our students in these economic circumstances and to be accountable for taxpayer dollars,” she told the Denver Post.
Other Colorado school districts, including Aurora, Thompson and Adams 12, are phasing out the contract provision, as well.
In California, union officials in the Vista Unified School District agreed to pay $80,000 to settle a district lawsuit seeking reimbursement for $128,242 spent on union release time. Perhaps more importantly, the union promised to pay its own way in the future.
A lawsuit filed in Phoenix is challenging union release time for the city’s seven labor unions. Phoenix’s union contracts allow for more than 73,000 hours of annual release time for city workers to conduct union business at taxpayer expense, according to the Goldwater Institute, a non-partisan government watchdog organization behind the lawsuit.
The Institute is representing two city taxpayers, William Cheatham and Marcus Huey, who contend that the agreements violate the state constitution, which prohibits “using taxpayer dollars to subsidize private entities without proportionate, tangible benefits in return,” according to the Institute.
Both examples illustrate that taxpayers are catching on to the union’s free labor scheme, and we suspect that reports like those recently published in the Denver Post will only increase pressure to address it.
As more taxpayers become aware of the union subsidies, we believe most will come to the same conclusion as Clint Bolick, director for the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.
“Taxpayer money would be used exclusively for public purposes,” he said. “The practice of shoveling millions of taxpayer dollars into union coffers must be stopped.”
Contact Victor Skinner at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (231) 733-4202

 
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