Iowa Democrat lawmakers pan Right To Work repeal

Bipartisan solutions to issues facing Iowa, particularly rural areas of the state, will be necessary in the coming years, according to area legislators. Iowa Sens. Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, and Rich Olive, D-Story City, and Iowa Reps. McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City, and Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, offered their insights at the 17th annual Mid Iowa Community Development Conference Thursday.

Approximately 50 people gathered at the Best Western Starlite Village northwest of Fort Dodge to share ideas on ways to improve life in their communities.

Each of the four participating legislators gave their answers to four preselected questions about issues deemed pertinent to the region. Three of the four voiced their reservations about so-called Fair Share legislation, which would require nonunion members in unionized businesses and agencies to pay for services provided by the representing union. A bill affecting only unionized public workers passed in the Iowa Senate 28-21 earlier this year.

"I voted against it," said Olive. "In my opinion it was a bad bill. ... It just doesn’t fit very well."

The bill was then sent to the Iowa House, where it remains to be considered.

"I do not believe right now that there are the votes behind it to pass it," said Bailey, who spoke in favor of "putting it behind us" and moving on to deal with other concerns. "There are some strong arguments for it, but I have issues with the way the bill was written," he said.

Bailey’s House colleague Tjepkes, the lone Republican at Thursday’s forum, called Fair Share a "downer" in trying to attract businesses to the state. "It’s a real discouragement, in my opinion, to economic development," Tjepkes said.

Kibbie, who voted in favor of the bill, defended his pro-Fair Share stance as a way to raise wages in what he called a "low-wage state," thereby attracting and retaining professionals. "In my opinion, it’s not the repeal of the Right to Work law," said Kibbie, referring to a law that allows nonunion members to work in unionized businesses.

Each of the legislators was asked about his thought on property tax reform in Iowa.

The property tax issue has been in every campaign since Kibbie was elected to the Senate 28 years ago, he said.

"There are so many exceptions in our tax code," Kibbie said.

Olive pushed for a floor on residential and agricultural property taxation "So we don’t keep rolling that back," he said.

"We should stop shifting from home and agriculture over to commercial property," he said.

Tjepkes spoke in favor of maintaining a "pro-business" attitude in the Legislative in regards to property taxation.

"There seems to be an attitude in a lot of legislators to ‘Just pass it on to businesses,’" Tjepkes said.

Bailey said that his hopes "aren’t real high" that meaningful legislation will be passed on the subject in the next session.

He called on both Republicans and Democrats to make the issue a priority, and urged voters to contact their legislators with their thoughts on the subject.

Responding to a query about how to repair and improve Iowa roads and bridges, Tjepkes spoke about TIME-21, a funding study committee that has discussed means by which more money can be raised for transportation in the face of predicted shortfalls in the coming years.

"I think that in this session, if there’s a major, major issue that has bipartisan support, it’s TIME-21," Tjepkes said.

Two means by which more transportation funding could be raised are increases to the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees.

"Iowa has more registered vehicles than people," Tjepkes said. "Our of the 3 million, 300,000 vehicles pay $28 or less in registration fees."

A modest increase in the gasoline tax would have a very small impact on the average motorist, Olive said.

"If we raise the gas tax a penny, the effect it will have on most of us is an annual increase in costs of $6.50," Olive said.

Additionally, 15 to 20 percent of gasoline sold in Iowa is purchased by people from out of state, Olive said.

Bailey said that educating people to "make them aware of how important this is" will be important.

"We need to make sure people know this money is not going into a slush fund for our pet projects," he said.

According to Kibbie, "There’s no reason we couldn’t get 30 votes in the Senate to pass TIME-21," he said.

When asked about an impending shortage of skilled workers in the state, Bailey highlighted the establishment of a commission that is touring the state to gather information about the concerns of younger Iowans, in an effort to make the state more hospitable to their needs.

"They will come back with recommendations in January," Bailey said.

In the last session, the Iowa legislature approved more funding for community colleges, many of which are partnering with employers to develop relevant training programs.

Olive spoke in favor of the potential of developing a tuition forgiveness program, through which students who attend college in Iowa could receive tax credits for remaining in the state for a certain period of time.

A similar program exists at Des Moines University, Tjepkes said.

"The results are encouraging and promising," he said.

Kibbie said he favors increased requirements for ethanol and biodiesel consumption.

"We’re not using any more ethanol today in Iowa than we used in 2005," Kibbie said. "This economy is great in Iowa because of renewable fuels."


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