Your Capitol Voice: New gas tax, $ for education proposed by Bobby Kaufman, State Representative · Op-Ed · February 01, 2013
This week at the State Capitol was a busy one. Committees are in full swing and legislation is starting to be crafted.
The Agriculture Committee has been busy. Representative Pat Grassley has committed the Ag Committee to being a productive one. I am working on the Task Force he has assigned to me. It involves exploring every avenue and tool that we have to help beginning farmers get into the business. We had a productive meeting with the Department of Natural Resources. I am looking to forge a mutually beneficial relationship between young/small farmers and the DNR so that:
1) Beginning farmers can have first crack at the DNR’s 30,000-40,000 acres they rent for cropland.
2) The DNR will have land stewards to help make their conservation practices even better. I am very optimistic about this. I believe farmers care as much about their land and the future as any Iowan.
Transportation will have several big issues considered but one of the largest discussions coming is about the fuel tax. The Director of the DOT came before the committee this week and explained in detail how the DOT works, where its funding comes from and goes to, and his thoughts on the state of our roads and bridges.
My position on the gas tax is this: I understand that we have an infrastructure problem. I also understand the benefit of it being a user fee and that over 1/3 of the dollars will come from out-of-state drivers who pay nothing to use our roads.
I will consider a gas tax increase as long as the following are in place: It must remain a constitutionally protected revenue source that goes directly into the road-use fund, and the formula is not changed so that our small towns and counties get their fair share, and I would like to see some sort of an offset elsewhere such as property tax reform. In the end, I will ask for your input, and your voice will guide my vote.
I will continue to work this week on my eminent domain bills. It is my hope to get this bill to the Governor’s desk this session and I have been very pleased with the bipartisan support it has been receiving.
This week should begin a series of discussions on two of the biggest issues this legislature faces: education funding/reform and property tax relief. On education reform, I am happy that the Governor has brought the conversation to the table. I am, however, skeptical of the reform bill. There are some good items in it, such as improved teacher pay and career advancement, and there are some items of which I am quite skeptical.
I am concerned the Department of Education is being given too much power. I always believe the best decisions on education come locally from our teachers, school boards, parents and school staff. I also am cautious of the recommendation to take on education reform before we have the allowable growth discussion. Our school districts need predictability when dealing with their budgets.
The Senate Democrats have proposed a 4-percent allowable-growth increase. I applaud their quick action but I am concerned that even with 4 percent, a lot of our small schools will continue to lose money. I’d like to see a discussion about how we can ensure that dollars get into the classrooms of our small schools. The current funding formula doesn’t always guarantee that. Allowable growth is not the answer to small and rural school inequities.
Finally, property tax reform is coming. It will require compromise, working with both parties, and not everyone will get what they want. However, doing nothing is not an option. The looming residential and agriculture property tax increases would be crippling and it is not good for our economy that our Main Street businesses continue to pay among the top three highest rates in the entire country.
One of the highlights of my week was when the veterans came up on Wednesday. We had lunch, discussed Veterans issues, and three of them even came up with me to the Dome – which is a 600-step hike! Virgil, Merlin and Bob … great job! I cannot thank our veterans enough for their service and will continue to do whatever I can to help them legislatively.
Listening Post Schedule for Feb. 2: 9 a.m. Muscatine Community College; 1 p.m. Clarence City Hall
Capitol Visitors: John McFarland – Solon, Mike & Karen Woltman – Swisher, Al Behrens – Lowden, Merlin Hillyer – Bennett, Patty Hamann – Tipton, Virgil Kruckenberg – Lowden, Bob Stoltenberg – Durant, Wayne Frauenholtz – West Branch, John Phillips – West Branch.
You may contact Rep. Kaufmann at Bobby.Kaufmann@legis.iowa.gov.