On Wednesday I announced my plans to seek re-election to the Iowa House. After talking it over with my family and with my daughter’s medical condition continuing to improve, we felt it would be OK to run for another term.
There are also several pieces of legislation that I would like to continue working on. I appreciate all the support you have been giving me and encourage your continued support.
The House and Senate agree to fiscal year 2015 general fund budget targets. Next year’s general fund budget will spend $6.9718 billion which is a 7.39 percent increase over the current year’s budget of $6.492 billion.
Legislators say this is the first time in recent history where a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate has worked together so well in setting these targets. Joint-spending targets for each of the eight budget committees were agreed to more than two months earlier than the process in 2013. Hopefully, this will result in a shorter session this year.
Funding is provided for the 4 percent increase in supplemental state aid for K-12 schools, funds the education reform agreement and implements the commercial property tax bill.
Additionally, the budget provides funding levels to ensure a second year of tuition freezes at Iowa’s three Regents universities and a 4 percent increase for community colleges. Now, subcommittees can hammer out the specifics on how their funds will be budgeted.
This ATV legislation (HF2395), which passed the House by a vote of 71 – 28, expands the use of all-terrain vehicles to secondary roads but not on primary roads. However, ATVs are allowed to cross over a primary road.
The operator is required to have a valid driver’s license, be at least 16 years old, carry proof of financial liability coverage and observe a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour. ATVs must be registered with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and must meet requirements for headlamps, rear lamps and turn signals.
Counties and cities will be allowed, by ordinance, to opt-out, thereby prohibiting use of ATVs in their jurisdiction. Having passed the House, the legislation has been sent to the Senate and is awaiting their approval.
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In February, legislation, which I requested on behalf of the Friends of Maquoketa Caves, passed through the House Natural Resources committee. On Wednesday, the full House passed the bill (HF2397) by a vote of 95-4. The legislation requires the Department of Natural Resources to establish a state lands volunteer program to authorize nonprofit organizations that provide volunteer services, liability protection under the state tort claims act when volunteering on state lands. The legislation now goes to the Senate for their approval.
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This week, I chaired the subcommittee on a bill that revises the method of calculating the excise tax on compressed natural gas used as a special fuel and establishes an excise tax on liquefied petroleum gas used as a special fuel. Both rates are calculated to be equivalent to the motor fuel tax. For compressed natural gas used as a special fuel, the rate of tax that is equivalent to the motor fuel tax is 21 cents per gasoline gallon equivalent. The bill now moves to the full Ways and Means committee.
Although most discussions regarding increased road funding has centered on increasing the fuel tax, an alternative idea is being discussed. This concept involves decreasing Iowa’s per-gallon fuel tax while increasing the wholesaler sales tax. This innovative attempt to fund the state’s ongoing infrastructure needs is still in the discussion stage.
With every 1 percent increase in the wholesaler sales tax revenue increases $47 million compared to $22 million for every 1 percent increase in the per-gallon fuel tax. This alternative tax plan includes indexing to avoid future debates on fuel tax increases.
This concept is open for discussion and not expected to be acted on this year. Democrats are not dismissive of the idea; however, they remain skeptical. Gov. Terry Branstad has yet to comment on this bill and has not endorsed any specific method for increased funding for Iowa’s roads and bridges.