Iowa Dems seek to ban voluntary unionism

Like other pro-business groups in Iowa, the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce fought Democratic-led efforts last year to pass "fair share.'' The controversial plan, which would allow labor unions to bargain for the right to charge a service fee to non-union workers, passed the Senate, but died in the House. Some legislative leaders expect the controversial proposal to come up again this year.

The Siouxland Chamber is bracing for that possibility. Retaining the state's existing right-to-work law is at the top of the group's "guiding principles'' for this session. Chamber leaders warn that tinkering with the 30-year law would cost Iowa jobs and new business development. In particular, they say Sioux City could lose prospects to neighboring right-to-work states Nebraska and South Dakota.

"We have had numerous site selectors that we work with tell us that Iowa would be taken off the list," Chamber President Debi Durham said. "From a recruitment standpoint, future investment standpoint, it would be detrimental to our state."

Durham said she hopes Democratic Gov. Chet Culver the Democratically-controlled Legislature concentrate on issues with broader appeal.

"I certainly hope that a bulk of our time and efforts aren't spent with issues like fair share,'' Durham said. "We'd like to focus on property tax reform, and other things that affect everyone, from senior citizens to our business and industry community."

The Chamber recently released its agenda for the 2008 session, which begins Monday. The list includes a number of local and regional importance.

The organization again supports a more equitable system of distributing property tax dollars to local school districts. That would mean millions of dollars of added support for Sioux City's district, which is among those forced to levy a higher tax rate than some other districts because they have lower property valuations.

So far, lawmakers have failed to develop a ways to address the inequity without penalizing property-rich districts.

On a related issue, the Chamber continues to call for the Legislature to reform the state's property tax system. Property taxes for commercial and industrial property have kept rising, largely due to the so-called state rollback, a decades-old tax discount for residential property tied to ag land values.

"We need to revisit what property taxes pay for and how they are levied," the Siouxland Chamber said in its position paper. "We cannot support any measures that worsen the gap between the property tax classifications, but, rather we advocate an equitable system."

The Chamber also supports a simplified tax system, and opposes growth in the state budget that exceeds the rate of inflation or the growth index. "Our organization certainly has concerns about spending issues," she said.

Among the Chamber's other priorities for this session:

- The state Transportation Department should expand U.S. Highway 20 to four lanes from Fort Dodge to Sioux City. According to the Chamber, western Iowa is at a competitive disadvantage because of the lack of an east-west highway corridor.

- Lawmakers should look to lower the taxable wages in which an employer's unemployment taxes are calculated. Iowa's 2008 taxable wage base of $22,800 is higher than the average of $12,900 for surrounding Midwest states, putting Iowa businesses at a competitive disadvantage, according to the Chamber.

- The state should keep the present workers compensation provision that allows employers to select the medical care for injured workers. Some lawmakers favor allowing workers instead to pick their own doctors, a change that the Chamber argues would hurt Northwest Iowa businesses' ability to compete with neighboring states.

- The state should continue its efforts to establish a "more customer-friendly'' regulatory environment. The Chamber recommends moving toward online state permitting by consolidating applications from multiple agencies into easy-to-file, non-duplicative online versions with defined response times.


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