- Associated Press - Monday, January 1, 2018

Sioux City Journal. December 29, 2017

Cheers and Jeers

THUMBS UP

Prudent

A study of Interstate 80 traffic in Iowa, which will include opportunities for input from the public, will be completed by May, according an Associated Press story in Wednesday’s Journal.

The study of improvement options is prudent, given the fact the Iowa Department of Transportation predicts a significant increase in traffic on I-80, already the state’s heaviest-traveled east-west road, over the next 20 years.

Options for improved I-80 traffic flow discussed in the story included use of truck-only lanes, expansion of I-80 to six lanes and expansion of east-west Highways 30 and 34.

We look forward to reading details of IDOT’s report on the study.

Nebraska will discuss voter ID

Nebraska lawmakers will take up consideration of voter ID legislation during their 2018 legislative session, The Associated Press reported in Tuesday’s Journal.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna said he will introduce a voter ID bill.

As an additional layer of protection for the integrity of elections, we long have supported a requirement voters show some form of identification.

Under a bill passed this year by the Iowa Legislature, which we supported, voters will need to show an acceptable form of government-issued ID before casting a ballot at polling places. If a voter doesn’t have one of the acceptable forms of ID, the state will issue him or her a voter-verification card, free of charge. A request for an absentee ballot will need to include an acceptable personal identification number, as well.

Cone Park opens

Thirty-six years after her death, Ruth Cone’s dream of a new park in Sioux City became reality on Dec. 21 as Cone Park - created on 10 acres of land near the IBP Ice Center and Lewis and Clark Park - opened to the public. In the beginning, amenities will include a day lodge, tubing hill, ice-skating pond (the skating rink, which will be ready sometime in January, will be converted to a splash pad for use in summer months) and snow-making equipment. A trail will connect Cone Park to Sertoma Park.

The project represents a significant, unique addition to our community’s impressive, diverse system of parks. We have full confidence Cone Park will be a popular draw for both residents and visitors.

Saga ends

On Dec. 19, Chief Bankrupty Judge Thad Collins approved a settlement between the city of Sioux City and Civic Partners, the Huntington Beach, California, developer of the downtown project commonly known as the Promenade complex. The agreement will allow the city to recoup up to $1.45 million of the $2.5 million it spent on this ill-fated deal, which aside from the successful Promenade Cinema 14 movie theaters produced little of what was promised.

Removal of the litigation cloud from above the complex also means removal of a significant barrier to filling additional space (aside from the movie theaters, only one other business leases space in the complex today).

The settlement agreement was reachedat a time when construction of a new Courtyard by Marriott hotel across Fourth Street from the complex is planned. In our view, the hotel not only will provide a boost to the Convention Center next door, but should boost prospects for filling this complex.

More tenants for the complex will mean increased traffic in this area of downtown and more traffic should be beneficial to business for the movie theaters and for the other current tenant, 6 South Design, not to mention for the city’s tax rolls.

THUMBS DOWN

Opioid deaths have ‘huge impact’

Deaths from drug overdoses climbed 21 percent in 2016, dragging down the life expectancy rate in the U.S. for the second consecutive year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Dec. 21. This marked the first time in more than half a century U.S. life expectancy declined for two years in a row.

Drug deaths increased from 52,000 to 63,600. Two-thirds of those deaths, or about 42,000 deaths, involved opioids.

“This is urgent and deadly,” Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the CDC, said of the nation’s opioid epidemic. The epidemic, she said, “clearly has a huge impact on our entire society.”

The life expectancy of a baby born in the U.S. in 2016 is, on average, 78 years and seven months.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. December 28, 2017

St. Edmond group shows holiday spirit

The spirit of giving was very evident at St. Edmond Catholic School this holiday season.

Students, who are all part of the National Honor Society at St. Edmond, donated gifts for 30 youngsters who participate in Athletics For Education and Success. That made this time of year much merrier for these young folks. According to Charles Clayton, executive director of AFES, some of these children would have otherwise have had few if any Christmas gifts.

Mike Szalat, a teacher at St. Edmond who is also the adviser to National Honor Society, told The Messenger that sophomore Cambrie McBride came up with the idea of donating gifts to AFES participants. The project was enthusiastically endorse by the other NHS members and became a group undertaking.

Some available money at the school was supplemented with additional fundraising. The NHS students were provided a list of all the AFES children and what they wanted for Christmas. A shopping expedition to secure gifts ensued. About the same amount of money was spent on each of the 30 AFES students. Once the gifts had been secured, they were wrapped at the school by St Edmond students.

Szalat has high praise for the St. Edmond National Honor Society members who made this commendable project a success. He also is impressed with their contemporaries.

“I am very high on this generation of kids,” Szalat said. “My own children and the kids I teach take their studies much more seriously than I did. And they’re more caring and involved in service.”

The Messenger heartily agrees. We applaud the St. Edmond students who, during the busy Christmas season, helped make sure that this holiday was more festive for other young folks than it might otherwise have been. They truly showed the spirit that should motivate us all not only at Christmastime, but all year-round.

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Des Moines Register. December 28, 2017

Iowa needs a higher, not lower, tax on beer in new year.

In the new year, you’ll be paying less tax to tipple.

The new tax law passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump will cut excise taxes on beer, wine and distilled spirits over the next two years. It’s especially generous for craft brewers, cutting the federal excise tax from $7 to $3.50 per barrel.

Will you celebrate with another drink? That’s the problem.

If anything, taxes on alcohol should be going up, not down. No one likes paying more. But shouldn’t drinkers pay for the social and economic costs caused by their drug of choice?

Those costs are high. Excessive alcohol use already leads to approximately 88,000 deaths a year - the third leading cause of preventable death (behind tobacco and poor diet and physical inactivity). In addition, drinking causes economic costs related to crime, domestic violence, injuries, disease and other problems.

Adam Looney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, estimates the federal tax cut would cause between 280 and 660 additional motor vehicle deaths a year and about 1,550 total alcohol-related deaths annually from all causes.

Looney argues that given all the negative impacts of alcohol use, “the total local, state and federal tax on alcohol should be roughly four times higher than it is now, and certainly not lower.”

Iowa, then, could lead the way by increasing beer taxes.

Iowans pay a beer excise tax of 19 cents a gallon - which is a little more than a dime a six-pack. The tax was last raised in 1986.

Thirty states have higher beer taxes. Iowa’s is less than Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and the Dakotas. Tennessee has the highest beer tax, at $1.29 a gallon.

The great thing about alcohol taxes is that if you don’t use, you don’t pay. And no, not everyone drinks. About 56 percent of Iowans 12 years of age or older had used alcohol in the last month, and about 25 percent had engaged in binge drinking (defined as four to five drinks in one setting), according to a 2016 Iowa Department of Public Health report.

How high should Iowa’s beer tax be? The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in Iowa, the costs of excessive drinking are $1.93 billion, or $1.59 per drink. Iowa’s costs are high in part of because its high rate of binge drinking; Iowa is tied for fourth nationally for the prevalence of binge drinking among adults.

The Alliance of Coalitions for Change, a group of Iowa organizations focused on substance abuse, recommends raising the beer tax 54 cents a gallon, to 73 cents. That works out to an increase of about a nickel a serving. It would raise an additional $40 million a year, based on the 73.8 million gallons of beer sold last year.

In 2010, the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy made a similar proposal and advocated using the extra money to create a competitive grant program for prevention, treatment and law enforcement - all areas that are lacking resources.

Now, the tax revenue goes into the state’s general fund. A portion collected from native brewers goes to the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Beer and Wine Promotion Board. So essentially, it goes toward promoting alcohol use.

Studies have shown that consumers respond to higher alcohol prices by reducing consumption. That’s what happened the last time federal alcohol excise taxes were raised, in 1991. Alcohol-related deaths fell as result, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study.

Maryland increased its alcohol taxes in 2011, and alcohol-related crashes have dropped by 6 percent, and even more so among drivers age 15 to 34.

So why did Congress just lower taxes on alcohol?

Because the alcohol industry has been lobbying for such cuts for years. And the D.C. swamp is brimming with booze money.

In Iowa, we can restore some balance to such tipsy thinking.

Craft beer market grows.

Iowans are drinking less beer overall, but the market for local craft brews continues to grow.

In fiscal year 2017, Iowans drank 73.8 million gallons of beer, a decrease of 2.01 percent from 2016.

The “native beer” portion of the market is still tiny - less than 1 percent, or 615,451 gallons. That’s an increase of 9.72 percent over 2016.

In 2015, the Legislature changed the definition of beer to include high-alcohol brews. Those double India pale ales and other varieties can reach, by law, 15 percent of alcohol by volume but are taxed at the same rate: 19 cents a gallon. In contrast, Iowa’s wine tax is $1.75 a gallon.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen. December 29, 2017

‘A beacon of hope’: Mazahir Salih is the Press-Citizen Person of the Year 2017

Mazahir Salih made history this year. Not only is she the first Sudanese-American on the Iowa City Council, but she’s also the first in the United States. And now she’s also the first Sudanese-American to be named the Press-Citizen’s 2017 Person of the Year.

But Salih’s run for office isn’t the only reason we’ve named her person of the year. Since coming to Iowa City in 2011, she’s played a pivotal role in the Sudanese community and in championing a $10.10 minimum wage, even after the Iowa Legislature essentially rescinded the right for Johnson County to mandate that wage.

Mazahir has extensive experience in engaging local government, including her interactions and familiarity with local law enforcement. She is a leader in the Sudanese-American Association and the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa. She also has served with the Black Voices Project and as a board member of the Downtown District, among other commissions, committees and community groups.

Mazahir has been and continues to be the voice of a unique community in Iowa City that, practically speaking, had no voice and no role in decision-making. She has given voice to refugees, immigrants, people of color, undocumented migrants, low-income families, and religiously underrepresented people during a time that hate, marginalization, discrimination, bias, misconceptions, and blatant negative speech and deeds abound in our state and nation.

For many in the privileged majority, there is often little understanding of what it takes to work, raise children, find affordable housing or move around the city without a car, while at times facing insurmountable obstacles based on one’s complexion, socioeconomic status, home country, difficulty learning or speaking English, or religion. Mazahir knows this community well and has worked hard to be its representative while she herself faces similar challenges. She understands that if you look like her, dress like her and speak like her, personal and professional opportunities and experiences can be completely different.

Her historical win as a city council member reflects how she managed, against all odds, to appeal to everyone in our community, showing that all voices must be represented on the council. During this unprecedented political year of division, ongoing human and civil rights abuses, and negative rhetoric, her ascension to becoming a key community leader is refreshing and necessary.

As one letter writer put it: “She is a beacon of hope and inspiration.” We’re proud to have a leader in Mazahir Salih, and our community is better because of her.

Past Press-Citizen Person of the Year recipients

2016: Jim Throgmorton

2015: Chuck Swanson and Andre Perry

2014: Vanessa McDonald and Leighton Smith

2013: Rod Lehnertz

2012: The Gerdin Family

2011: Crissy Canganelli

2010: Matt Hayek and Tom Rocklin

2010: Josh Schamberger (Person of the Decade)

2009: Jen, Dawn, McKinley and Breanna BarbouRoske

2008: Christopher Merrill

2007: Atul Nakhasi

2006: Rudolph Juarez

2005: The James Gang

2004: Susan Craig

2003: Marc Moen

2002: Kirk Ferentz

2001: Dick Schwab

2000: Englert Civic Theatre Group

1999: Melanie Doubiany Friedman and Jennifer McLarty

1999: Irving Weber (Person of the Century).

1998: Bob Bowlsby

1997: Kelly Hayworth

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