Please consider the following for inclusion in your letters section, or as a “Your Turn” essay:
It is exciting to think about the River Trails white water park that is proposed for the downtown portions of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. It would be a nice addition to the amenities that help keep and attract people and businesses to the Des Moines area.
But I don’t believe the results of the economic impact study that was done by Johnson Consulting for Capital Crossroads. As reported in The Des Moines Register, the study estimates that the Water Trails project will generate $104 million of Total Direct Spending at restaurants, hotels, stores, and equipment rentals during its first five years of operation. (See link to Register article below.)
For example, the report assumes that there will be 78,068 paying active participants of the River and Adventure Park features during the first full year of operation – spending about $78 each on food, beverage, and equipment rental. If we assume the recreational and related opportunities are open 365 days per year, it means that an average of over 200 people would use the facilities every day. That doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
In addition to the 78,068 active participants, the report assumes the project will attract an additional 80,000 non-active visitors, plus 15,404 more visitors from the Iowa Events Center, for a total of 173,472 visitors who will contribute to the total economic impact of the project during the first year – spending about $100 each that they otherwise would not have spent.. (The estimated number of users increases about 6-7% per year after the first year.)
The projections include the assumption that 60,000 of the visitors will stay overnight during the first year. That equals an average of 164 overnight visitors every day who would not have otherwise stayed overnight if there weren’t a River Trails recreation project. The report includes other unrealistic estimates.
It is probably impossible to calculate the economic benefit of any new attraction that is added on top of all of those that already exist in our metropolitan area. I suppose it is expected that an economic impact study be conducted before spending $117 million on a recreational project like this. The consultants do make proper disclaimers and disclosures in their report to notify readers of how estimates were made, and that actual results may be significantly different.
It is important that we not fool ourselves into thinking that we can accurately quantify the future economic impact of such a project. My gut feeling is that the indirect benefits of the River Trails project might greatly exceed the costs, but that the directly measurable economic benefits will not.
The Des Moines Register recently published an editorial that showed how out-of control Iowa and other states are in giving incentives to businesses to locate in their state. To help reverse this situation, Congress should exercise its Constitutional power to “…regulate commerce… among the several states…” and should limit states’ ability to bribe companies to locate in their state. States should be prohibited from giving custom incentives to specific businesses to locate in their state. They should only be allowed to use schemes that provide uniform incentives to all companies that locate their business or otherwise create new jobs in that state.
According to an article in the Des Moines Register, The American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued their annual report on the “pay gap” between women and men. According to the report, women in Iowa earn about $10,000 less per year than men. This article, and the related report, are excellent examples of misuse of meaningless statistics. (See link below.) Comparing the median pay for all women with the median pay for all men tells us nothing about whether or not sex discrimination is taking place. A valid analysis would compare the pay of women and men who do the same work for the same employer. The report by the AAUW did not do that.
This report tells us more about the bias of the AAUW than it does about bias in the workplace. As you reported, Kim Churches, chief executive officer of AAUW, said, “It’s unacceptable. There is no gender differentiation when it comes to quality, skills, and talent. It’s time to close this gap and give every woman in Iowa and across the country the salaries they deserve.” She advocated for more regulation.
Based on the facts given in the article, and assuming that women and men can and do perform equally, then it is fair to presume that the AAUW would agree that if any woman wants to earn the same pay as a man, then they should go for the same jobs that men go for. When the relevant qualifications, working conditions, and job duties are accounted for, the difference in pay between women and men reduces dramatically. The pay gap has been reducing for years. Our current laws are working. We don’t need to add more regulations.
I appreciate the good intentions of farm owners Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman who are making good effort to conserve their farmland and our environment. In their Iowa View essay published in the Des Moines Register they wrote, “… transitioning farm practices takes time to understand and accept, and requires resources to implement. ” They urged Congress to renew and increase funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) as part of the Farm Bill. CSP pays farmers to implement conservation practices. They implied that their farm operator might not continue conservation practices if he loses his CSP payments. (See link to Iowa View essay below.)
The problem with CSP, which started in 2004, is that it is not a transitional program. It doesn’t create any permanent solution. It creates dependency. Conservation efforts continue only so long as payments continue. If we stop paying the subsidies the conservation stops. We need to use both “the carrot and the stick.” Maybe now is the time to start penalizing farmers who pollute our water and air – just like we do to every other business.
Recently, candidates for office in Iowa have been asked to promise future Iowa public employees that they will make no changes to the Iowa Public Employment Retirement System (IPERS) retirement plan. Instead, politicians need to state clearly that they make no promises to future employees about their retirement benefits. The fact that IPERS is currently underfunded by about $7 billion shows clearly that we already have over-promised benefits when compared to what we expected taxpayers and public employees to pay.
(When government has a defined benefit plan, the participants seem to think that any over-funding is their asset, but any under-funding is a liability of the taxpayers. In the past, when IPERS was over-funded, benefits were increased!)
The way to make sure that we don’t make retirement benefit promises that turn out to be more expensive than we expect to pay is to put new government employees on a defined contribution retirement plan – just like most employees in the private sector. This will cause the unfunded liability to come due over the next 50+ years, but at least it won’t get worse.
Thanks to Susan Voss for her thoughtful essay about the complexities of our health care system, and how difficult it is to reduce costs. (See link to Register essay below.) I don’t claim to have “the answer”, but I do suggest that the following cost saving ideas be given serious consideration.
Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance should not be required to cover every new drug, product, or procedure that is approved by the FDA. Some are very high cost but provide only marginal improvement over alternatives that cost much less. Also, at least some covered products and procedures would likely be considered not medically necessary by most people.
Consider shortening the amount of time that government grants a monopoly for patents. Patents are not natural property: humans have copied one another since the beginning of time. Our U.S. Constitution allows patents to be granted to encourage inventiveness, but there is no objective reason why a patent must be granted for 20 years. Why won’t five or ten years work? Maybe the length of the patent should be based on the cost to develop the patented item and whether or not government funds were used to help develop the item.
Don’t require limits on out-of-pocket payments such as co-payments, especially for very high cost items. A person should have “skin-in-the-game” if they expect their insurance to cover very high cost items. Today, we see the opposite: drug companies offer to help pay people’s out-of-pocket costs so there won’t be so much political pressure on them to lower their prices.
Allow both pharmacies and individuals to purchase drugs from sellers in other countries that are “deemed” to have sufficient safety procedures in place. If drug companies are free to charge lower prices in other countries, then pharmacies and individuals should be free to purchase the drugs from those other countries.
Allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate with drug companies on prices they pay for the drugs that are covered by the programs. Right along with that, Medicare and Medicaid should be allowed to develop formularies (lists of drugs that are preferred over other therapeutically similar drugs), that give beneficiaries a financial incentive to use the preferred drugs and a penalty for using higher cost drugs.
Our health care wants are unlimited. Our ability to pay is not. We, as citizens, should not expect private insurance or our government health care programs to cover everything, regardless of cost. We should expect our government to NOT do things that increase costs, or reduce our choices.
We need to oppose the push by various Iowa public school supporters to extend the state-wide one-cent sales tax that is used for infrastructure and technology: (“Advocates hope to extend tax for schools” 7/30/2018 – see link below.) The original local option taxes that started in 1998 were supposed to expire after 10 years. Then, in 2008, the Iowa Legislature expanded the tax to the entire state and extended it for 20-years – to expire in 2029. Now, school sales tax advocates want to extend the state-wide tax for an additional 20 years!
Taxpayers might ask why anyone would want to extend the tax now, since the current tax doesn’t expire until more than 10 years from now. The answer is that many school districts have already borrowed against and spent the not-yet-collected future taxes. They did this by issuing bonds and pledging the future taxes as security.
It is understandable that people may want to fund school infrastructure with a sales tax rather than a property tax. But it is not clear that all that every school district in Iowa needs the additional revenue. We need to let the current tax expire in 2029 and then give local school districts a local option if citizens feel the additional tax is really needed.