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Friday, Sep. 19, 2014

Legislators and taxpayers talk budget, unions

Monday, February 15, 2010

(Photo)
(Sentinel photo by Amy Erickson) Iowa Legislators Rep. Chuck Soderberg, center, and Sen. Randy Feenstra, right, talk with Dan Smith, of Merrill, left, following a legislative forum with about a dozen citizens Saturday at the Le Mars Public Library.
Iowa Legislators Rep. Chuck Soderberg and Sen. Randy Feenstra discussed the gaping hole in the state budget, union bills, ethanol requirements and state tax returns Saturday with about a dozen people at the Le Mars Public Library.

Soderberg and Feenstra were in Le Mars for a legislative forum where they invite the public to come and ask questions and find out how the legislators feel about the current legislative session.

Budget

"The governor's looking for $340 million cost savings and that is what he is proposing in his budget," Soderberg said.

Culver's proposed budget indicates that savings or fresh cash be used to close the gap in the general fund, which pays for education and other key state services.

However the Legislative Service's Agency, a nonpartisan group that analyzed the governor's proposed budget, came up with a savings assessment of approximately $68 million compared to $340 million, Soderberg said.

"Those two numbers don't quite match so what we've looked for is additional savings beyond the $68 million in the next fiscal year in a House version," Soderberg said.

Last week the Senate passed their version of a bill to reorganize government that would realize a savings of $74 million.

The House came up with an amendment with 14 different components that would have saved $290 million -- it was rejected, Soderberg said.

"I think all the legislators, Democrat and Republican, are realizing that the whole legislature has to find a way to fill the gaping hole," Feenstra said. "That means the bills that are alive have to fill a hole of $100 million or more."

That's scary, he said, because in his opinion the legislators are left looking at some bad bills like one called combined corporate income tax which would levy really big taxes on all large industries.

That could mean taxing businesses like Wells' Dairy and area banks 10 to 15 times more than they are paying now in income tax, Feenstra said.

Another bill being considered to help fill the hole in the budget is looking at "dramatically" increasing gambling which would permit gaming tables and sports betting at casinos, Feenstra said.

"It's scary because those things are very bad. I don't support any of those three bills," Feenstra said. "I don't understand without passing one of those how they are going to fill the budget unless they start cutting programs and stuff like that."

The next weeks are going to be very challenging as legislators continue to wrestle with the budget, Feenstra said.

"We're trying to live within our means," Soderberg said. "They are trying to take money out of the taxpayers pockets."

Unions

Feenstra and Soderberg also discussed union bills that are being considered in the legislature such as a Fair Share bill.

"Anybody that works in government must belong to a union," Feenstra said about the proposed bill. "You don't have the option to opt out. That's pretty significant. That's a huge bill."

And area schools like Le Mars Public School, local government and taxpayers get caught in the middle of such a bill, Feenstra said.

Soderberg spoke about other union bills such as those dealing with prevailing wage, worker's compensation bills, which would increase work compensation insurance premiums, collective bargaining and repealing the right to work law.

The repeal bill did pass committee so it is eligible for debate and, if it passed, would have significant impact, Soderberg said.

"Non-union employees would have to pay up to 75 percent of union dues," he said. "If you are a non-member, you would still have to pay those dues to the organization."

A man from the audience asked Feenstra and Soderberg how it is decided which union teachers in the state belong to.

The man said Le Mars Community Schools has a teacher's association, but there is another union in the state they also pay teacher's dues too.

Soderberg and Feenstra didn't have an answer, but said they would research the matter.

Ethanol and biodiesel

A man from the audience asked whether Iowa is going to subsidize ethanol production, and Feenstra said there's a tough bill dealing with that topic that the Senate could decide to debate.

"That would get rid of all subsidies for ethanol, but it would mandate ethanol where all pumps would have to have 10 percent," Feenstra said.

The senator doesn't know if he supports the bill in its current form because of all the negative affects it could have.

A couple of those negatives might be putting a hardship on owners of vehicles with engines that can't use ethanol and hurting cattle producers by using more and more of their corn supplies to make ethanol, Feenstra said.

"We have to be careful in helping one market we are not hurting another," he said. "There's so much division. They are not sure they (Senate) are going to pick it up."

Soderberg said discussions concerning biodiesel were in the House, but when federal tax credits were not extended the conversations really shut down and the issue died.

"One of the concerns with biodiesel is the over-the-road trucks," Soderberg said. "There was a lot of concerns the truckers may just by pass Iowa and not purchase anything here."

Tax returns

Both Feenstra and Soderberg said the Legislature doesn't have an answer for taxpayers or tax preparers as to how they should proceed with doing their 2009 state income taxes.

Last year, taxpayers and tax preparers were instructed by the Department of Revenue to file their income taxes for tax year 2008 as if Iowa would couple with federal changes.

That is typically how the Iowa Legislature chooses to handle such changes, according to information provided by Soderberg.

However, last year the Majority Party prevented that bill from coming to the House floor for a vote so many individuals filed their income taxes incorrectly and some are just learning of it now and must correct the problem, Soderberg said.

It's still uncertain as to whether the Legislature will pass an Internal Revenue Code Update bill this year, which will urge the Majority Party to couple with federal changes and pay back taxpayers, Soderberg said.

"Taxpayers need to have some lead time on this," said a man in the audience.

Feenstra agreed.

"They've got to pass a bill on this," he said.

As the meeting wrapped up Saturday, Feenstra encouraged those gathered not to lose heart when it comes to state leaders.

"Government can be a good thing," Feenstra said. "Hopefully we can work through this."



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