Need to oppose push for extension of school infrastructure sales tax.

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.
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Respond to racist speech with opposing speech, not government censorship.

It is good that our U.S. Constitution prohibits our government from restricting our right to free speech.  That includes the racist hate speech of the owner of a Wi-Fi network near the Iowa State University campus.  As reported in the Register, when people search for a Wi-Fi network near the ISU campus, they find a network named “Hang that N _ _ _ _ _!”.  (See link to Register “Reader’s Watchdog” article below.)
If we allowed our government to censor racist and other hate speech, it would only drive the racists and hate-mongers underground, and give them a martyr-like status among other racists.  Instead, by allowing such speech, individuals and groups (but not government) are able to confront and oppose their ideas and publicly shame them if needed.
In this case, I urge activist students and others to use current technology, like the app inSSIDer,  to find the location of the Wi-Fi router and then to protest and picket at that location.

Abortion should be allowed if fetus is not viable

Joel Kurtinitis had an opinion printed in the Des Moines Register on 3/25/18 (see link below) wherein he wrote that a fetus should be protected against abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected (around 6 weeks into pregnancy).   He and other millennials may not have been exposed to the philosophical argument in favor of a woman’s right to choose abortion up to the time that a fetus is viable.  A fetus is viable when it is able to live outside of the mother’s womb, either with or without assistance (usually around 24 week into pregnancy).  A classical libertarian philosophical position is that every person has the right to use and control his or her own body as they wish as long as they don’t infringe on other people’s right to do the same.  In the case of abortion, this means that neither the fetus nor anyone else, has the right to force the mother to carry the fetus inside her body.  If the fetus is not viable, then the mother should be free to abort it.  If the fetus is viable, then the mother should take reasonable care to not harm the fetus during delivery.

Link to Kurtinitis’ opinion in The Des Moines Register:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2018/03/22/heartbeat-bill-abortion-millennials-iowa-legislature/449965002/

 

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.

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:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2018/02/07/its-illegal-buy-car-rv-sunday-iowa-new-law-might-change/315016002/

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: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2017/10/20/iowa-farmers-face-fourth-year-possible-losses-heading-into-harvest/775626001/

 

Some of the rich are getting poorer, and some of the poor are getting richer.

The Des Moines Sunday Register published a lead article (Page 1) titled, “The rich keep getting richer”.  (See link below.)  Included were a number of misleading statistics or misleading conclusions based on the statistics.  For example, according the think tank, Iowa Policy Project, the median hourly wage in 2016 was $16.04 per hour.  37 years ago, the average wage, adjusted for inflation, which is fair, was $15.91.  The Register concluded, “This means a typical wage earner  working 40 hours per week for a full year would have seen a real increase of $270.40 over a 37 year span.”  While the statistics are technically true, you cannot logically conclude and that any specific person or group of people did not move themselves from a lower wage to a significantly higher wage.  I’m sure it is true some people moved down while some people moved up.  An interesting study would be to see how wages correlate to the number of years in the employment market.  It would be interesting to know the median starting hourly rate for a young inexperienced worker versus and an experienced worker who has been in the labor market to 30 years.  The fact that the average stays about the same my be a problem, but almost no one stays at the average wage for 37 years.

Another statistic was that the number of people who earned $1 million or more during specific years increased from 5,031 in 2010 to 8,325 in 2015.  Their “slice” of the state’s total adjusted gross income grew 37%.  Meanwhile, the number of Iowans claiming gross incomes of $40,000 to $99,999 climbed by 23%  while their slice of the state’s total adjusted gross income fell 2%.  First, I would venture to guess that a significant majority of the $1 million+ earners are people who sold their businesses or had other one-time income.  So, again,there is no logical reason to presume that the $1 million+ club is made up of the same people year-after-year.  At the same time, from 2010 to 2015 the Iowa economy was generally continuing to improve, so values and prices of businesses likely climbed.  Also, in the case of an “expanding pie”, the fact that any group gets a smaller percentage of the total does not mean that their real income is not increasing.

Finally, the Register reported that their analysis of U.S. Census data showed that the bottom fifth of earners saw practically no growth in household income – going from $13,798 in 2006 to $13,848 in 2016, again adjusted for inflation.  Here again, there is no logical reason to believe that the specific group of people who were in the bottom 20% in 2006 are the same people who were in the bottom 20% 10 years later.  It would be interesting to know what percent of the people in the bottom 20% in 2006 were still in the bottom 20% 10 years later.   My guess is there would be some, but not a majority.

As a society we need to make sure we don’t put hurdles in front of people who are trying to improve their lot in life.  In many cases this means removing government created regulatory barriers to entry into certain jobs.  The Register has done very good work exposing job licensing regulations that are in place more to protect existing businesses from competition and to protect the profits of licensing education businesses, than to protect the public.  Yet, the Iowa Legislature has done precious little to address this real problem for low income workers who are trying to work their way up in our economy.

Link to Register article:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2017/11/25/most-iowa-wages-have-stagnated-but-rich-keep-getting-richer/818770001/