MOUNT PLEASANT—The Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance Government Affairs Committee is once again affording Henry County residents the opportunity to share their views with state lawmakers at a series of public forums during the Iowa legislative session.
The monthly legislative forums will be held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. the fourth Saturdays of January, February, March and April, in the International Room of Chadwick Library at Iowa Wesleyan College.
Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, and Senator-elect Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, are scheduled to attend all four events. Other special guests also are expected to participate.
Each forum will center on a topic of interest to Henry County residents. The schedule is as follows:
Saturday, January 26 Education
Saturday, February 23 Taxation
Saturday, March 23 Economic Development
Saturday, April 27 Session-in-review panel discussion
Community members with expertise in the primary subject area will serve as moderators.
The Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance 2013 Legislative Priority statements follow.
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IOWA LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES 2013
Taxation—The Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance favors comprehensive review of Iowa’s tax code. If such a review is unlikely, lawmakers should emphasize property tax reform and reduction of commercial property taxes.
Economic Development—The Mount Pleasant Chamber Alliance supports the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s request for restoration of the $185 million cap on state tax credits for business development and an additional $20 million for direct incentives. We also call on lawmakers to ensure greater fairness in economic development by making additional counties eligible for the Enterprise Zone program.
Education — The Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce supports continued implementation of Governor Terry Branstad’s “Blueprint for Education” and other relevant modernization of the education system.
Comprehensive Tax Reform
Tax reform is an important and pressing issue for businesses and citizens in Henry County. Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance members favor a review of the entire tax system, including the property tax, corporate income tax, gas tax, etc., rather than piecemeal reforms that often make the tax system more complex in the long run. Should legislators be unable to form a comprehensive tax plan, we recommend formation of an impartial, bipartisan or non-partisan commission to review Iowa’s overall tax system and recommend reforms.
However, if a comprehensive review is unlikely this year, and if there is momentum to pass legislation reforming the property tax system, we would prefer that the emphasis be placed on property tax reform, as that issue has been discussed and debated for years without significant action.
Property Tax Reform
The current system is an impediment to business development. Commercial and industrial property taxes, based on 100% of assessed property value, are disproportionately high compared to other states. Further, the entire property tax system is a confusing mess of “taxing authorities,” “levies,” and “rollbacks.” Finally, there is concern that unfunded mandates from the State of Iowa force cities and counties to increase property tax collections.
Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance favors a reduction in property taxes for the commercial and industrial sectors of the economy, with an emphasis on small businesses. We also believe multi-family housing should be taxed as residential rather than commercial property. Without this latter change, rural communities will continue to struggle to provide housing for newcomers and low- to middle-income workers.
As State Legislators consider property tax reform legislation, we hope they will ensure that reforms in the system are not funded on the back of local governments. We urge lawmakers to work together and come to a consensus on reforms that will result in a more equitable and simplified property tax system.
IEDA and Incentive Funding
The Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance supports the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s (IEDA)FY 2014 request for $20 million for direct incentives and restoration of the state’s tax credit limit to $185 million.
The IEDA is the gateway for growth in our state. Led by Debi Durham, members of the IEDA team demonstrate their knowledge and professionalism each day as they build lasting relationships with Iowa employers and generate new economic development leads both domestically and abroad. It is critical that the IEDA receive operational funding sufficient to maintain its outbound marketing and community assistance programs and to retain the best and brightest economic development professionals.
Likewise, the IEDA must have sufficient financial incentive dollars at its disposal. Professional site selectors consistently rate state and local incentives as a Top 10 decision-making factor. The Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance believes the IEDA’s budget request is adequate to make our state competitive with others in the Midwest, provided lawmakers also establish a protected funding stream to give certainty to both business leaders and IEDA professionals in the years ahead.
The Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance asks Iowa lawmakers to authorize additional counties to participate in the Enterprise Zone program.
Henry County was for many years a shining light in the Iowa economy. Thanks to the efforts of leaders such as Ernie Hays and Edd King, the local manufacturing sector enjoyed sustained growth for three decades. Sadly that era has passed. Henry County now struggles against stagnant wages and an unemployment rate that is well above the state average. Yet businesses in our county remain ineligible for the powerful Enterprise Zone program. In essence, we are being victimized for our past success.
There are more than 1,100 Enterprise Zones scattered across 40 counties in Iowa. Criteria for establishing these zones were set forth in 1990 and 2000 and new zones are no longer being admitted. The concomitant gap in incentives between Henry County and those nearby counties eligible for Enterprise Zones impedes our competitiveness in business attraction and retention.
The State of Iowa took a significant step toward equity in financial incentives last year with reform of average wage threshold calculations. We ask lawmakers to maintain the momentum by clearing a way for new Enterprise Zones.
Education in Iowa is in need of serious reform. It is vital to our region and state to have an education system that prepares students to succeed in a very competitive economy. Yet even as the cost of educating our youth increases, standards and student quality decline. We believe expansion of school-choice reforms, following the so-called “Florida model,” will lower educational costs and improve student and teacher quality. We also support efforts to strengthen the core curriculum, which must reflect high academic standards. The Governor’s attempts to improve teacher quality and accountability in the classroom deserve the full support of the Iowa legislature. Likewise, access to early childhood education and pre-school attendance by all children, with an emphasis on reading/literacy, is critical to the long term economic well-being of our communities. As one metric of success, all children should be reading proficiently in third grade.
An improved core curriculum, teacher accountability, and higher standards are essential to ensure our students are obtaining the fundamental education necessary to succeed as productive workers and good citizens.