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Kibbie And Wittneben Discuss School Funding, Taxes

By Staff | Feb 15, 2011

Many issues currently facing the Iowa Legislature were discussed at a town hall meeting held Saturday morning at the Iowa Welcome Center in Emmetsburg. The public forum, co-sponsored by the Palo Alto County Farm Bureau and the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce, featured area legislators Senator Jack Kibbie and Representative John Wittneben. Pictured (above, from left) are Terry Naig with Farm Bureau, Sen. Kibbie, and Rep. Wittneben. – Lori Hall photo

This is the first of a two-part story covering the town hall meeting held Feb. 12, in Emmetsburg with State Senator Jack Kibbie and State Representative John Wittneben.

Concerned citizens filled the Iowa Welcome Center in Emmetsburg on Saturday morning, Feb. 12, ready to discuss the latest hot button topics with local state legislators Senator Jack Kibbie and Representative John Wittneben. The pair addressed several issues, ranging from preschool and K-12 funding to a proposed tax increase on casinos during the first of three town hall meetings planned this session. Palo Alto County Farm Bureau and the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce sponsored the meeting.

Wittneben opened the discussion, noting that there are two winners this session, so far-mental health and large corporations (cutting the tax rate from eight-percent to six-percent).

Kibbie addressed the state’s financial condition.

“You’ve heard the doom and gloom, but at the end of this fiscal year we’ll have $900 million of cash. That’s the most money we’ve had on hand in the last seven governors,” shared Kibbie. “But we do have gaps.”

Those gaps include K-12 funding and property tax exemptions.

“We didn’t fund what we said we would on allowable growth last year for K-12 schools, and that’s about $156 million,” said Kibbie. “There’s another $110 million gap in property tax exemptions, which include ag land tax credit, homestead, low income tax credit, and veterans.”

Among the topics discussed were:

K-12 Funding

Emmetsburg Community Schools Superintendent John Joynt addressed the issue of funding for K-12 schools.

“Zero-percent allowable growth for our district isn’t a disaster, but it’s very close,” said Joynt. “We’re lucky that we’re up 20 students because if we have zero-percent allowable growth we would increase $42,000 for next year. Eventually, this is going to cost jobs.”

Joynt stated that there were no plans to reduce teachers next year, but reductions would come the year after next.

“The Governor recommended a zero increase, and it hasn’t been zero increase since 1973,” said Kibbie. “So, the Democrat senators will pass a two-percent allowable growth, hopefully next week, which costs $65 million.”

Kibbie has more K-12 schools in his district than any other senator at the statehouse.

“If you have declining enrollment you’re going to get less money,” Kibbie said. “Even with two-percent allowable growth, you’ll still get less money.”

Preschool Funding

“The preschool issue will cost us jobs. For our district it would cost us two jobs,” Superintendent John Joynt noted. “Across the state you’re talking thousands of jobs.”

“Everybody wants preschool, but the Governor and the Republicans voted it should be on a need-basis,” Kibbie stated.

The senator explained that the Governor’s plan calls for lower income families to receive a voucher to help pay for preschool education. He noted that the legislators will be dealing with this issue in the next couple of weeks.

Casino Tax Increase

Governor Branstad has presented a large commercial property tax decrease, recommending eight-percent a year over five years to lower it from 100-percent to 60-percent.

“The Governor’s plan to pay for it is by taxing the casinos,” said Kibbie.

Amy Rubel, General Manager of Wild Rose Casino, asked how much support was in the legislature to increase taxes on casinos by 36-percent.

“This would have a huge impact on jobs,” added Rubel. Rubel explained that the casino currently pays 22-percent on their adjusted gross revenue. The Governor is proposing a tax increase for casinos from 20- to 24-percent up to 36-percent. That’s a 63-percent increase. Currently, we pay $5.4 million a year in taxes. If this passes, our taxes would go up over $9 million. Our doors would close. It would be devastating to this area.”

“I don’t think that has much support,” Kibbie answered.

“Can I publicly hear you say that you wouldn’t vote for it?” Rubel asked.

Both Kibbie and Wittneben applied in the affirmative.

Redistricting

The 2010 census shows that rural Iowa has lost population and that legislative districts will have to be redrawn.

“Iowa has grown a little over three million in population in the last ten years, but we didn’t grow enough in comparison to other states so we’re going to lose a congressman,” Kibbie explained. “Right now, a congressman in Iowa represents about 600,000 people. With this new plan, a congressman is going to represent about 770,000 people.”

Kibbie continued, “There’s no question there’s going to be congressmen thrown together when they draw those lines. In the legislature, the way we do it is all by computer. They pay no attention to where any sitting legislators live, so there will Democrats and Republicans thrown together.”

He noted that in some cases there will be senators who ran for a four-year term in 2010 whose terms may be cut short, and they will have to run again in two years.

“We expect a plan at the end of March,” said Kibbie. “There will be public hearings around the state. They won’t be able to change it, but they can voice their opinion whether they like it or not. When we get the first plan we can only vote it up or down, we can’t amend it.”

Look in Thursday’s “Democrat” for a continuation of this story.

Contact your

state legislator:

State Senator Jack Kibbie, Iowa Senate, Iowa Statehouse, Des Moines, IA 50319; Senate office telephone 515-281-3371; e-mail: John.Kibbie@legis. state.ia.us

Representative John Wittneben, Statehouse, Des Moines, IA 50319; office telephone: 515-281-3221; e-mail: John.Wittneben@

legis.state.ia.us.