Legislators In Emmetsburg For Conversations With Constituents
by Jane Whitmore
Iowa Senate President Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg and State Representative John Wittneben of Estherville addressed a group of constituents Saturday morning at a Legislative Town Hall Meeting in Emmetsburg. The event was co-hosted by Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce and Palo Alto County Farm Bureau.
Kibbie and Wittneben presented an overview of issues that are being handled at the Statehouse this session, then answered questions and listened to comments from constituents.
Wittneben said the big issues this year are the Governor’s Blueprint for Education as Legislators work to strengthen and broaden the education system in Iowa. Mental Health is also a big issue for the Legislature. Commercial property tax and property tax in general also come into play.
“We’ve got 100 Representatives, 50 Senators and one Governor that all agree that taxing 100-percent valuation of commercial property tax is wrong,” said Wittneben. “It’s hurting business. But we can’t agree how to change it so we keep doing nothing. I think this is the year it’s really going to happen.”
The fourth area of work in the Legislature is the gas tax, according to Wittneben.
Kibbie agreed that both sides want to do something about commercial property tax.
“The House bill shifts the tax to residential property taxpayers. The Senate isn’t going to go along with that,” said Kibbie. “The Senate bill, passed last year, is $50 million a year for commercial property tax breaks and it gives everybody up and down Main Street (in Emmetsburg and any other town) a tax credit on their commercial property taxes and it shows up on your commercial property tax bill, just like your Homestead Exemption. The House bill more or less starts at the top and the Walmarts of the world are going to get more of the money. The Governor, in time, over eight years, says the cuts to subdivisions of government, because of growth, they’re going to earn that money back. I don’t know that Emmetsburg is going to grow that much.”
Addressing the issue of mental health, Kibbie said, “That’s probably got counties upset the most that I’ve seen them in many years. That’s a long ways from finished.”
Kibbie pointed out that last year the County Mental Health Law was repealed completly. As of July 1, 2013, there is no law.
“We’ve got to do something,” said Kibbie. “We could probably get by to next January, but it would be best if we could get it done this year.”
He noted that counties recently met in Des Moines and will bring a recommendation to the Legislature.
“There’s no way we can pass mental health redesign and have the state take over all the funding,” said Kibbie. “We don’t have the money. The property tax for mental health in the state of Iowa is $125 million. The issue is to have equal services in every county. We’ve been nibbling around the edges of mental health since 1995.”
Gas tax is another key issue. Kibbie told the group, “There are votes to pass a gas tax. It’s time to do it, in my opinion. We’ll (Senate) provide the majority votes, but it’s got to be a bipartisan deal. I don’t know of a lot of people in my Senate district that have commented to me against it. If we’re going to keep commerce up and we’re going to keep agriculture up, and do all this stuff on the roads… If you want the state to grow, you’ve got to start putting some money in the hat.”
School funding is an annual issue. Kibbie stated that allowable growth of four-percent was passed out of the Senate this week.
Questions from constituents concerned education, the gas tax, agriculture skilled workforce issues, mental health and economic development.
Look for more “Conversations with Constituents” in The Democrat this Thursday, Feb. 16.