- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

Des Moines Register. September 15, 2017

Iowa needs a soda tax: Empty calories can help replenish state budget

Iowa is now the 13th-fattest state in the country. More than 30 percent of our adults are considered obese. Meanwhile, our state government is facing a budget shortfall and will need more revenue going forward to sustain basic services.

One idea to address both these issues: a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and soda.

This is not a radical proposal. Several municipalities across the country have imposed a levy on unhealthy drinks to try to curb the obesity epidemic and raise revenue. The taxes imposed in Cook County, Ill., and Philadelphia can include flavored waters, teas and other drinks. France, Finland and Hungary all tax unhealthful beverages.

And there is evidence such measures work.

A 2015 World Health Organization review of using price policies to promote healthier diets found taxation led to a reduction in consumption and in many cases a reduction in overall calorie intake.

Mexico’s 1-peso-per-liter tax on sodas, roughly 10 percent of the cost, led to a 6 percent decrease in overall sales and a drop of nearly 12 percent among lower-income residents. The consumption of water and non-taxed beverages increased by about 4 percent on average.

Why wouldn’t Iowa consider this idea?

This state clearly has little aversion to so-called “sin taxes.” Throughout Iowa history, our lawmakers have embraced imposing levies on items generally considered harmful.

Iowa became the first state in the country to pass a tax on cigarettes when lawmakers added 2 cents to the cost of a pack in 1921. Nearly a century later, that tax is $1.36 per pack, compared with 17 cents in neighboring Missouri.

Cigarette taxes are proven to reduce smoking, an addiction that drives up health care costs and kills people. Meanwhile, Iowa reaps financial benefits, collecting about $230 million in fiscal year 2016 from taxing tobacco products.

And this state has no qualms about padding the public coffers with taxes on alcoholic beverages. Our levy on wine is nearly six times higher than Kansas’ tax and generated $7.6 million in 2016. Beer sales brought twice as much money to state government.

A special tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and soda, which contribute to everything from obesity to cavities, is in keeping with Iowa’s other taxation to discourage unhealthy behaviors.

Of course the state Legislature is controlled by Republicans. Many recoil at the word “tax” unless it is part of the phrase “tax breaks for businesses.” But some conservatives have a special dislike of soda, even proposing to ban the purchase of it with food assistance benefits. And at least some of them must recognize the state is thirsty for revenue.

Lawmakers could impose the additional fee on sugary beverages and not use the dreaded “t-word” to do it. They could call it something easier to swallow, like a “health tariff” or “anti-fat fee.” They could dedicate the money collected to health initiatives, such as fighting obesity or funding Medicaid.

Such fees would make Iowa a healthier state. And consumers who continue to expand their waistlines can help expand revenue sources for a starved state government.

Iowa’s many fees and taxes related to alcoholic beverages generated revenue of $330.4 million in fiscal year 2016, according to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division.

Of that, $105.6 million was transferred to the state’s general fund, $21.2 million to public health and $3.7 million to cities and counties.

People in this state purchased 74.7 million gallons of beer in 2016 and 4.5 million gallons of wine. Iowa recorded $288.9 million in liquor sales.

The top-selling brand? Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey, with 157,190 cases sold.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. September 13, 2017

CLURA plan a strong one

Last week, the Waterloo City Council voted unanimously to continue the program that provides three years of property tax abatement for new one- and two-family homes.

The renewal of the City Limits Urban Revitalization Area for another five years was another pragmatic step.

The CLURA was initially adopted in 2011 as a way to encourage new housing starts in Waterloo, which was seeing an increasing number of homes being constructed in Cedar Falls and other neighboring communities.

“We have to sell Waterloo continually; Cedar Falls is easy to sell,” said real estate broker Amy Wienands. “So the tax abatement has been the biggest thing we’ve had to be able to captivate that audience.

“That tax abatement has been the biggest asset in our tool belt to keep a buyer in the market in Waterloo,” she added. “I think the success speaks for itself.”

All of that is true. Still, we’re left wondering if this will be a perpetual situation.

Initially, city planning staff recommended continuing the CLURA indefinitely without a sunset clause. However, a committee of real estate agents, developers, bankers and others recommended the five-year extension.

That was discussed at a public meeting earlier this month. “The realtors would like to create urgency for the sale; the bigger developers would like to have it not have an end date,” said former Waterloo Mayor John Rooff, a home builder who served on the committee.

“We feel that in fairness, not only to the housing industry but to the council, you have to have some sunset on it. That gives you a chance to review it again.”

We agree. We still support CLURA as a responsible strategy. Another review after another five years is another responsible strategy. For the time being, the program is making progress.

Adrienne Miller, of the city’s planning and zoning office, reported the city was averaging 37 new one- and two-family home starts annually in the five years before the CLURA.

That jumped to 73 new homes a year during the program’s first five years.

We’re certain CLURA played a large part. The incentive for a home buyer is significant. A person buying a new $200,000 home will save a projected $12,700 in property taxes over three years. Among other options, that allows buyers to invest more in their home initially when building in Waterloo.

Just like with tax incentives for big box stores and other larger development projects, these programs temporarily take away some tax revenue that would be going to public institutions such as school districts. On the other hand, Waterloo needs to broaden its tax base, and luring development, both residential and commercial, remains crucial.

It’s an interesting situation, but clearly the program is working.

The CLURA was first recommended by a committee that included developers, real estate agents, builders and others. A similar program had been used successfully by the city of Des Moines.

We originally supported the CLURA because of the simple fact Waterloo was not getting anywhere near a proportionate share of new single-family and twin homes in the area.

There are signs of chipping away at that cycle of stagnation - and for that reason, continuation of the CLURA is acceptable.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. September 12, 2017

Grassley protects US taxpayers

Sen. Charles Grassley is an important voice in Washington on many issues of major significance to the future of the nation. While that may be the most crucial aspect of his service, he also is a tireless opponent of wasteful and fraudulent government expenditures.

The Iowa Republican has never forgotten his roots on an Iowa farm. He understands that much of the money federal agencies spend is an aggregation of the tax dollars paid by average Americans of modest means. Grassley understands that people work hard to earn that money and have a right to expect it will be spent honestly with wisdom and frugality.

Grassley keeps a watchful eye on the federal government’s campaign against waste and fraud.

Recently, he pressed for better oversight of the $9.6 billion program the federal government created to help homeowners who were negatively affected by the housing crisis. Unfortunately, officials have done a poor job in preventing wasteful expenditures by some bureaucrats. A statement just released by the senator’s office points out that an audit found $3 million in unnecessary expenses.

The senator is calling for strong action to eliminate these types of abuses.

“Congress didn’t intend this program for bureaucrats to live high on the hog, yet the bureaucrats in question did exactly that,” Grassley said in statement issued Aug. 25. “They bought barbecue and gift cards for themselves with taxpayer dollars. $3 million might sound like decimal dust to those who write big checks at the Treasury Department, but it’s a lot of money for people struggling to keep their homes. Every single agency that squandered this money needs to pay back every penny to the American taxpayers. The Treasury Department must make that happen. The buck starts with the Treasury Department, and it stops with the Treasury Department. There’s no excuse to let this slide.”

The Messenger strongly agrees. We applaud Grassley’ determination to make certain our tax dollars are not wasted on frivolous expenditures.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. September 15, 2017

Despite low turnout, school elections bode well for Dubuque kids

When only about 1 in 12 eligible voters feels compelled to go to the polls to help chart the direction of local public schools, it hardly seems like a number worth cheering about.

But we’ll give a contained hurrah for the just under 8 percent of Dubuque Community School District voters who turned out and chose thoughtfully with kids’ best interest in mind.

At least that seems to have been the motivation when voters overwhelming backed the instructional support levy. That’s the tax that for nearly two decades has spread about $5 million annually throughout the district on educational programming. It paid for all-day, every-day kindergarten and creating smaller class sizes in elementary schools. It is, quite intentionally, funding that goes directly to student experience. Voters figured that out, and 80 percent of those who went to the polls supported it.

It’s not surprising, then, that those who voted with kids in mind on the instructional support levy also picked a strong slate of representatives for school board seats.

Voters supported one no-nonsense incumbent with decades of experience as a teacher, a longtime educator with nearly a half-century of time working in the district and a young man with an earnest interest in helping kids and a unique perspective that is currently lacking on the board.

Anderson Sainci is a 29-year-old African-American father of three who grew up in poverty. He knows what it’s like to overcome obstacles. He has faced some of the same challenges so many students in our school district face. That’s not a perspective we typically see in Dubuque leaders. That Sainci is ready to step up and serve is a credit to him; that citizens gave him the opportunity is a credit to them.

Sainci’s lack of experience with the school district is offset by the vast history incumbent Jim Prochaska and retired district administrator Nancy Bradley bring to the table. Collectively, they will complete an already strong board.

Still, it’s interesting that 92 percent of voters didn’t bother to weigh in on the direction that board will take. The Dubuque Community School District has a bigger budget than the City of Dubuque, and virtually all (more than 90 percent) of the district’s money comes from state aid and property taxes. School board members must make spending decisions judiciously.

While a 7.7 percent turnout might not seem like anything to brag about, this year is not so terrible. Consider its place in history:

. Last year’s vote on the physical plant and equipment levy garnered a turnout of 4.8 percent.

. In 2013, when the ballot included four candidates for three board seats plus a referendum on the renewal of Northeast Iowa Community College’s physical plant levy, just 4.9 percent of voters showed up.

. In 2015, when seven candidates were competing for four board seats, turnout still couldn’t get to 7 percent.

By comparison, 7.7 percent doesn’t seem so bad. And given the outcome of votes cast in support of kids, we’ll take it.

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