A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013:
Rewarding work: Fewer Iowa taxpayers may qualify for the state Earned Income Tax Credit, but a proposal to increase the credit from 7 percent to 20 percent would triple the cost from $27.5 million to nearly $83 million, according to the Department of Revenue.
SF 88 is similar to a bill the Senate approved with bipartisan support last year to raise the credit to 13 percent. Sponsor Sen. Hoe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, called that a “pretty modest” increase. His House counterpart, Rep. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, said it would be “pretty tough to go that far” unless the EITC was part of a larger tax relief package. That’s doable, Sands added.
Bolkcom made clear that the increase to 20 percent is a top priority for him.
“If we don’t get this, I’ll be hard to deal with,” he said.
Under SF 88, about 210,000 of Iowa’s 1.46 million taxpayers would qualify for the credit, according to the revenue department. Most are families earning less than $20,000 a year and represent 37 percent of Iowa children, Bolkcom said.
Drought monitoring: To help communities and water utilities prepare for continued drought — and flooding, a Senate Natural Resources subcommittee approved SF 165 to make $1.035 million available to gather information and provide technical assistance.
In 2012, drought in Iowa caused more than $1 billion in damage, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said, and if it continues the damage will be greater.
The funds would be used to re-establish monitoring of aquifers, which has been discontinued due to lack of funding, according to Tim Hall of the Department of Natural Resources. Funds would be used for groundwater source mapping and aquifer modeling as well as providing technical assistance to communities and rural water associations, Hall said.
Hogg expects the bill to be taken up by the full Natural Resources Committee Feb. 28.
Go, Rusty, go: NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace is now an honorary Iowan. Gov. Terry Branstad made that official Wednesday in a Statehouse ceremony for the former driver who won 55 events, held 36 pole positions, made 697 consecutive race starts and posted 202 top-five finishes during his career. Wallace, a Missouri native, said he was honored by Wednesday proclamation and said he will continue to make frequent visits to Iowa, where he helped open the Iowa Speedway near Newton in 2006.
Midwest governors: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s term as chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association has ended and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has assumed the group’s reins. Branstad, who served during the association’s 50th anniversary year, worked to renew the Midwestern “brand” during his one-year term as MGA leader. Dayton’s agenda for 2013 will focus on coordinating state responses to invasive species that pose a significant threat to the region’s ecosystem — with special attention given to Asian carp and zebra mussels. A recap of Branstad’s agenda is available at www.midwesterngovernors.org/chairagenda2012.htm.
Handicap gas pumps: Legislation seeking to provide handicapped Iowans better access to motor fuel pumps faces an uncertain future in the Iowa Senate.
SF 235 directs the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to establish standards by rule requiring a retail dealer to have a motor fuel pump capable of assisting persons with disabilities. Service stations would be required to post a sign on or near the gas pump denoting a special call button that customers could use to receive personal assistance from a retail dealer. The bill also would require the state ag department to conduct an inspection of motor fuel pumps as part of its regular inspection schedule.
During a subcommittee meeting Wednesday, critics said the regulations already are covered under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and many stations are in the process of trying to comply with the requirements. Proponents said more is needed to prod retailers into compliance but two subcommittee members expressed concern over the cost to stations and adding more duties to a state agency already impacted by spending reductions. The bill sought to establish a simple misdemeanor for day a retail dealers was out of compliance.
Government transparency: Senate Republicans are pushing for greater government accountability. To make the lawmaking process more transparent to Iowans, GOP senators are seeking to require a “statement of constitutional authority” to accompany all legislation filed in the General Assembly.
They also authored a separate bill requiring legislators to provide statements of legislative intent in bills creating or expanding a government program. “It’s about explaining to current and future legislators why this law was created. So many times the intent of the law gets lost in the rule make process,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City.
Quote of the day: “I guess the governor should have signed this a couple of years ago and we would be stuck at 10 percent,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, responding to a question about why his bill, SF 88, increases the Earned Income Tax Credit from 7 percent to 20 percent.