· The good news is that the cost of mailing a letter weighing one ounce or less won't be going up with the postal-rate increases coming July 1. The bad news is that it will cost more to send postcards, first-class letters weighing more than an ounce, certified mail, and express mail, as well as purchase domestic money orders. The U.S. Postal Service is facing losses that could exceed $2 billion this year and is looking at cost reductions of $2.5 billion through Fiscal Year 2003. You can see for yourself at (http://www.usps.gov).
· The Iowa Legislature announced that a bill has been proposed to provide $40 million in additional funding for teachers' salaries starting next year without taking money from the state's general fund or Iowa's Economic Emergency Fund. The main elements of the teacher-compensation program include a "career ladder" in which teachers can work their way up the pay scale by participating in professional development and demonstrating competencies through a comprehensive evaluation process; mentoring, in which new teachers will have a mentor for the first two years of their careers; professional development; and a "team-based variable-pay pilot" program, which will compensate teachers based on student achievement.
· The Scott County Sheriff's Office, in cooperation with the State of Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Tobacco Enforcement Program, is participating in the Cops in Shops program to prevent illegal tobacco sales to minors. Local officers will be working behind the counters of area retail establishments. With Cops in Shops taking place all across the state, Iowa minors will have to ask themselves if it's a cop or a clerk the next time they try to buy tobacco products.
· The moratorium on sales tax on Internet purchases is due to expire in October, and Congress is wrestling with whether to extend it or let the states tap into billions of dollars in extra revenue. Tax opponents argue that the sales-tax rates among the 45 states that impose them vary so widely that sellers can't be expected to collect them all. On the other hand, the General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress, estimates that uncollected sales taxes on electronic commerce could cost states $12.5 billion in 2003. If you purchase anything over the Internet, it might be a good idea to contact your legislators and let them know how you feel on the matter.
· The controversial thinning of the deer population in Iowa City has helped 3,000 families and a number of organizations. The Salvation Army distributed 15,000 pounds of deer meat from the 340 deer killed since January. There was so much venison, the Salvation Army started giving it to any Johnson County resident who wanted it, instead of just low-income families. Organizations such as the Wesley Center, Linn Community Center, and the Free Lunch Program have also received some of the deer meat. Churches and Boy Scout groups have used the meat to hold fundraising dinners.
· Your long-distance bill could be going down under a proposal to stop phone companies from passing on more than the government charges them to underwrite services for poor Americans. The FCC requires telecommunications carriers to contribute 6.9 percent of their interstate and international revenues into a pot of money used to keep phone connections affordable in low-income and high-cost areas. That fund also helps wire schools and libraries to the Internet. It's currently up to the phone companies to decide how and how much to recover from their customers. WorldCom, as an example, charges customers 12 percent of their monthly long-distance total. AT&T and Sprint both charge 9.9 percent of their bill. A final action on the matter is not expected for months.
· AccessAir is officially and finally dead. The Federal Aviation Administration has yanked AccessAir's operating permit, and the airline's permit from the U.S. Department of Transportation has been suspended. Papers will probably soon be filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Des Moines ending plans by the company to reorganize. Creditors can expect to receive, at most, pennies on the dollar, if anything at all. Creditors include the State of Iowa, which loaned the company $5.05 million; the State of Illinois, which loaned $2 million; Polk County, Iowa, which loaned $1 million; and The Ruan Companies and family, which put up nearly $12 million.
· Feel like you are spending too much time sitting in traffic? You might be right, according to a report released by the Texas Transportation Institute. In its annual report on congestion in 68 urban areas, researchers found that the average person spent 36 hours a year sitting in traffic, up from 11 hours in 1982. Rush hours have grown to six hours each day, three hours each morning and three hours each evening, twice as long as 1982. This costs $78 billion a year in wasted time and burned gasoline. You can view portions of the report on the Web at (http://mobility.tamu.edu/). If you are interested enough, the complete report is available but will cost you $24.99.
· The Moline-based John Deere Foundation has pledged $1 million toward the construction of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield, Illinois. The $115 million library and museum will be dedicated to informing the public about Lincoln and will provide visiting scholars a place to conduct research. Private funds for the library and museum are still being raised. With $25 million in donations being sought, $5.5 million has been raised. The 100,000-square-foot library will open in 2002, and the 98,000-square-foot museum will open in 2003.