Property tax and education take the leadLegislators preview the year ahead at the capitol
The Iowa legislators are about to return to work at the Capitol building in Des Moines. They will begin the 2013 legislative session Monday with a week that will begin with formalities and introductions.
Washington County residents will have a chance to ask their local legislators questions in the first legislative briefing of the year on Saturday, Jan. 19. Two state senators and two state representatives will field questions at the Washington County Courthouse from 10 a.m. to noon that day.
The panel will feature two Republicans, Senator Sandra Greiner of Senate District 45 and Representative Jarad Klein of House District 89, and two Democrats, Senator Rich Taylor of Senate District 42 and Representative Dave Heaton of House District 91.
Klein said the legislators will be sworn in Monday. They will listen to the governor’s “Condition of the State Address” and hear speeches from the Iowa National Guard and Iowa Supreme Court.
“We’ll tend to hear from all executive folks,” he said. “The first week is when we’ll get the governor’s priorities.”
Klein expects to talk about things such as property taxes and education through the first week, although it’s probably too early for the legislators to vote on bills.
“If we have committee meetings, it will purely be to get things on the calendar,” he said. “Since we have new members, we’ll go around the table and everybody will introduce themselves.”
Klein has been given a few new committee assignments this year. Klein is no longer the vice chairman of the labor committee, as he was last year. Now he is the vice chairman of the agricultural committee and he is on ag and natural resources budget subcommittee.
One of the issues that is dear to Klein, which he hopes to address this year, is adequately funding local schools. He said he is especially concerned about keeping open his alma mater, Keota High School.
“I’ve got three children under 4 years old, and I don’t know if Keota is going to be open for them,” he said.
Taylor is among the class of freshman senators. He is assigned to be vice chairman of the agricultural committee, an area where he has some ideas about how to reform farming.
“I’d like to see if we could help our farmers practice more soil conservation to protect our land erosion, maybe through more buffer strips,” he said. “Instead of mandates, perhaps we could use incentives to encourage them to invest in them.”
Taylor is on the judiciary committee and justice appropriations committee. He will deal with funding for prisons, which is something he has experience in. Taylor worked at the Fort Madison State Penitentiary for 26 years.
“I’ve heard that the death penalty might come up,” he said. “I have mixed feelings about that. It seems to me that putting someone in prison for life is worse than death.”
Taylor is on the local government committee, which he expects will talk about Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and commercial property taxes. He is on the transportation committee, and has heard that it will consider a proposal to increase the gas tax, an issue he also has mixed feelings on.
“I think there are other avenues we need to explore before increasing the gas tax,” he said. “I’m hoping we’re smart enough to phase it in over a couple of years rather than hammer people with a large increase in one year.”
Greiner said she expects the legislators to talk about Medicaid and Medicare, especially as it relates to mental health. She said the Senate and House will consider what to do with the state’s $800 million surplus.
“I expect there will be a fight over spending the money or giving it back to the people,” she said.
Greiner said that property taxes are sure to come up for debate in the Legislature. She said it might be time to equalize property taxes across the various classifications of residential, commercial and agricultural. Commercial is taxed at a higher level than the others.
Greiner will be the ranking member of the natural resources and environmental committee, which will take up changes to Iowa’s water quality standards. She said that committee will deal with reducing the inflow of nitrogen and phosphorous from farm runoff into the Mississippi River. Those chemicals have produced a “hypoxia zone” also known as a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico
Heaton could not be reached for comment.