Don’t increase Iowa Sales Tax to fund Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund

I agree with Iowa Senator Ken Rozenboom that people who voted for the Iowa Constitutional Amendment which created the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund were expressing their “feel-good” support for cleaner water and expanded recreation opportunities in Iowa.  The Register’s opinion polls also make it pretty clear that a majority of Iowans are willing to pay a higher sales tax to fund these priorities.

As a long-time river canoe paddler, I want clean waters in Iowa as much as anyone.  But raising the sales tax is the wrong approach to pay for the prevention and clean-up.  Here are three good reasons why Iowans and the Iowa Legislature should not increase the sales tax in order to fund the Trust Fund, and why the Constitutional Amendment should be repealed:
First, much if not most of the money will go to pay for subsidies or other incentives to the polluters to encourage them to stop polluting.  (Only 7% is guaranteed to go to trails.  All other categories are not guaranteed to go to recreation.)   Historically, we have required polluters to stop polluting our common environment or otherwise pay fines or other penalties to force them to stop polluting and to pay for cleanup of pollution they caused.  Taxpayers should not be bailing out polluters.  Taxpayers should especially not pay rent to farmers to temporarily “set aside” land from production in order to reduce run-off.  As we’ve seen under the federal program, if the payments stop or crop prices get too high, many farmers put fragile land right back into production.
Second, if we were to increase the sales tax,the only way to stop the spending would be to repeal the Constitutional Amendment.  Eventually, the need for tax money to pay for pollution prevention or clean-up will come to an end.  But the Constitutional Amendment has no sunset provision so money put into the Trust Fund will be required to be spent according to the fixed formula until the amendment is repealed.  We really need the flexibility of a legislative solution rather than a rigid Constitutional Amendment to solve our water pollution problem.  The Constitutional Amendment should be repealed.
Third, the sales tax is a regressive tax that is disproportionately paid by relatively poorer people.  Poorer people pay a larger percentage of their income in sales taxes than do higher income folks.
It is true that Iowa’s waterways are unacceptably polluted.   This is a problem that we need government regulation to solve.   A more just and fair way to finance the clean-up of our waters would be to put a tax on the pollutants – namely farm fertilizers and other chemicals.  All such taxes collected could be put into a clean water trust fund, which a majority of Iowans support.  There should also be appropriate fines to pay the cost of cleanup related to livestock sewage or other pollutants that are spilled into our waters.  The basic and just principle is that polluters should pay the costs of prevention and cleanup, not general taxpayers.
Regarding improving recreational opportunities, we have already made significant progress  toward providing more and better quality outdoor recreational opportunities for Iowans.  We should continue on our current incremental path that has worked well rather than significantly increasing taxes.

Don’t extend SAVE in Iowa – the school infrastructure sales tax

School districts in Iowa are lobbying hard to extend the SAVE one percent sale tax that goes to fund school infrastructure.  The current tax does not end until 2029!  Why do school districts want to extend the tax now, when they still have tax money coming in for about 11 more years?   It is because they have already spend all of their future sales tax revenues through bonding.  Many metropolitan school districts already have beautiful facilities, and several central Iowa school districts just passed school bond referendums to pay for additional new facilities.  We now need to get back to letting the individual school districts, and their own taxpayers, decide whether or not they need additional tax money.  Contact your state legislators and urge them to oppose this future tax increase.

Free Iowa Car Dealers!


It is not surprising that the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association has registered its opposition to Iowa Senate Study Bill 3139 which would allow RV dealers to sell RVs on Sundays.  (See Register link below.)  I’m sure they think if RV sales are allowed Sundays, then car sales might be next.  It would be nice if that were true.  The only reason that it remains a crime to sell RVs or cars on Sundays in Iowa is because of the lobbying power of the dealers.  If RV and car sales were allowed on Sundays in Iowa, it would not require any dealer to be open for business on Sundays.  The decision would be left up to the owner, just like every other business.  I urge Iowans to let there elected representatives know that Iowa should stop making it a crime for RV and auto dealers to be open for business on Sundays.

Link ro Register article:


Average pay for men and women working for State of Iowa need not be the same.

In Des Moines Register’s recent article about the pay gap between men and women working for the State of Iowa, the headlines and introductory paragraphs seemed to imply that there is something wrong about the fact that men working for the State get paid, on average, about $5,300 more than women.  (See link below.)  The proper question that needs to be asked and answered is: Are men and women with substantially the same job and qualifications paid differently or treated differently?
The full article was fairly balanced.  Toward the end of the fairly lengthy article the Register reported: “A 2006 study at the University of Iowa found that almost all faculty pay variations were the result of known factors that were expected to affect salary, including the discipline taught, seniority, tenure status and faculty rank.”  “When those factors were taken into account, ‘there were no overall statistically significant gender- or minority-status based salary differences,’ Jeneane Beck, a University of Iowa spokeswoman, said.”  Also further down in the article the Register quoted Iowa State University economist, Dave Swensen, saying, “It remains that large fractions of administrative support employment are female, which do earn substantially less than management, technical and other professional occupations,”
So, although there may or may not be some isolated problems, overall there appears to be no overall problem with the pay difference that was reported.

Give El Salvadorans and option to stay here legally.

About 200,000 Salvadorans have been living in the U.S. legally for almost 20 years.  They came here under a temporary protected status (TPS) program after a major earthquake in 2001.  As reported in the Register recently, (see link below), President Trump has ordered an end to their protected status and they are required to return to El Salvador by September 2019 or become undocumented immigrants. Maybe they should have been sent back to El Salvador long ago, but now they own homes and businesses.  The vast majority have jobs and pay taxes.  And they now have almost 200,000 children who are legal citizens.  Surely most citizens of the U.S. don’t consider it a priority for us to kick them out of our country?  We should end their TPS but give them the option to stay in this country legally, but without the possibility of citizenship.  It is quite clear that they are a net benefit to our country.

Farmers are doing okay.

The front page headline of the Des Moines Register on October 210, 2017 read: “Hoping To Break Even”  The sub-heading read, “Iowa farmers are facing their fourth year of possible losses as they head into this year’s harvest season”.  (See link below.)

The story mostly about the worries of some farmers.  It painted a picture of farmers on the brink of bankruptcy for reasons that were out of their control.The Register reported, “For a good number of farmers, it will be a fourth year of losses.”

I  don’t doubt that a “good number” of farmers will lose money, but it may be due to their own fault rather than factors that are out of their control… just like businesses in many other industries.  There was one telling fact that contradicted the mostly emotional report: “Since 2013 Iowa farm income has dropped from $5.72 billion to $2.6 billion in 2016…”  That fact  makes it pretty clear that a lot of farmers are still making a substantial profit, and are not losing money.

Farmers are working very hard to make sure that they don’t lose their federal subsidies, even though they have more wealth and higher incomes than most U.S. citizens.  When the current Farm Bill expires in 2018, we need to sharply reduce farm welfare subsidies.

Link to Register article:



Is our government responsible for the opioid crisis?

The Des Moines Register recently reported that 36 Iowa counties have joined in a law suit against opioid makers.  (See link to Register article below.)  Two law firms are enlisting counties across the country to go after drug manufacturers and others for the costs of the opioid crisis.  There is no cost to the counties.  If successful, the “Lawyers will  be awarded a portion of the settlement, …”  (Interesting that the word “settlement” is used instead of “judgment”.)

What is often missing in much of the opioid crisis discussion is how our government’s policy of prohibition has made a bad situation even worse.  When a person becomes physically addicted to opioids, they will do almost anything to get the drugs they want.  If the drugs are not available legally, or if legal drugs cost too much, addicts will find illegal alternatives. According to the CDC, 60% of opioid deaths do not involve prescription opioids.  That is, in 60% of opioid deaths the person who died was using illegal opioids.  (See CDC reference below.)  A significant problem with illegal drugs is that is no way to assure the quality and potency of the drugs.  In the case of opioids, that leads to inadvertent over-doses because the illegal drug was much more powerful than thought.

If opioid addicts were able to readily get prescription methadone or other FDA approved opioids at reasonable costs, many deaths would be prevented.  That would also take the profit out of the illegal opioid drug trade.  If opioid addicts were treated under a medical model rather than a criminal model, it is likely that more opioid addicts would seek help to solve their addiction problem.  But as it is, under our drug war, prohibition policy, addicts have good reason to not seek help.

CDC reference:

Link to Register article: