The Des Moines Register. Jan. 28, 2016
Where's the political debate over childhood poverty?
Amid the flurry of political news last week, a little-noticed story reported on the state of poverty in Iowa.
According to the Children and Family Policy Center in Des Moines, 110,000 Iowa children now live in poverty. That's an increase of 44 percent since 2000. The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches is up 56 percent, and the percentage of Iowans receiving food assistance has more than tripled.
Michael Crawford of the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines says the data illustrates why "it is so important that the critical public health, education and family support efforts — programs and services we know have been effective in helping Iowa families on both sides of the Great Recession — continue."
If you were to listen only to the politicians running for president, you might not think the war on poverty is a pressing issue in America today. But last summer, just as the campaign was beginning to heat up, the Gallup organization asked Americans to rate their satisfaction with the federal government's efforts on 20 different issues facing the country. Poverty was the area of greatest dissatisfaction, with only 16 percent of respondents saying they were content with government's efforts to address the problem. The economy and immigration came in a distant second and third.
With so many children living in poverty, and so many voting-age Americans dissatisfied with the government's efforts to address the problem, you'd think state and national politicians would trip over each other to address the issue.
Obviously, that's not the case. Few politicians embrace the poor as part of their constituency, and it's easy to see why: The poor tend not to vote. In 2012, there were 14.3 million adult U.S. citizens with incomes of less than $20,000. In that year's election, fewer than half of them bothered to vote, while 77 percent of those with household incomes of $75,000 or more went to the polls.
Add to that the fact that many lower-middle class voters cast their ballots along ideological lines rather than economic self-interest: Of the 10 states with the lowest household median incomes, nine voted Republican in 2008, despite the Democratic Party's traditional support for higher minimum wages, the rights of unions, health care for all Americans, higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans, etc.
Now, according to a 2015 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the top 1 percent of the American households own 35 percent of all the wealth in the United States, while the bottom 40 percent actually have a negative net worth. Looked at another way, the wealthiest 160,000 families have as much wealth, combined, as the poorest 145 million families.
This isn't mere happenstance. Public policies emanating from Washington and state capitals have directly contributed to the wealth and income gap, a fact that Pope Francis alluded to last fall when he stood before Congress and called on its members to do all they could to wipe out poverty.
Unfortunately, last-minute changes to the pontiff's planned speech resulted in some of his prepared remarks being edited down, eliminating comments that likely would have resonated with Republicans who control the House and Senate.
In those prepared remarks, given to the media just before the speech, the pope was to quote from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and make the argument that in America, politics exists to "serve and promote the good of the human person."
That being the case, the pope planned to say, it follows that politics "cannot be a slave" to finance, and should instead sacrifice "particular" interests in order to promote the common good so that all of us can "share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life."
Iowans should be mindful of the pope's admonition, and the statistics on child poverty, when they caucus next week. If politicians need to be reminded of our collective obligation to help "the least among us," Monday would be an opportune time to do just that.
The Mason City Globe Gazette. Jan. 26, 2016
Broadband program a priority.
There was much fanfare last year when the Legislature passed and Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill designed to help expand broadband access.
The goal, Branstad said, is "connecting every acre of Iowa to high-speed broadband."
But companies trying to expand said they're concerned because a key part of the law is not formally in effect and could hinder how they plan expansion projects.
It's business the governor and Legislature should attend to in quick order.
A story from The Associated Press reported that the issue is a 10-year property tax exemption for service providers who build out broadband — AKA the high-speed Internet that many city dwellers consider part of their everyday life. Businesses depend on it; for some, it is crucial to their livelihood. Schools use it, for example, to offer courses so students don't have to go long distances, or to bring cutting-edge education into classrooms. And in our personal lives, we use it for everything from sending emails and watching movies to real-time communication with our loved ones in far-away places.
In short, we'd be lost without it.
But more than six months after the law was signed into effect, providers that would like to expand their broadband services are waiting for the Iowa Department of Revenue to write rules so they can apply for the exemption. Service providers can seek tax relief up to two years out, but some say they would like a faster return on their investment, which just makes good business sense.
For example, one company, Premier Communications in northwest Iowa, has spent about $4.4 million to build service in three rural areas. Doug Boone, CEO, said his next budget includes $8 million for continued built-out but he's holding back because of the uncertainty of the property tax relief program.
Unfortunately, that uncertainty could linger too long while the situation works its way through the different departments of state government.
Department of Revenue spokeswoman Victoria Daniels said the agency will provide a draft of rules soon but finalizing them may take months. Her office, she said, has to work with the Office of the Chief Information Officer, which must determine if a provider's new project falls under the definition of limited broadband service.
"This is state government. Things do not happen overnight, unfortunately," she said.
Chief Information Officer Robert von Wolffradt said his office is working on the situation and understands providers' frustrations, but noted his office has had limited time and no direct state funding to do the work. Branstad's new budget proposal contains $2 million for the broadband program but how it is to be spent is not specified.
So it's possible that providers might be forced to pay full taxes on property that was supposed to be exempt in 2016.
We understand providers' frustration and uncertainty. We also understand that new state programs don't happen overnight, as Daniels said.
But it's important for Iowa's economic, educational and quality of life purposes for high-speed Internet to be offered across every acre. Thus we urge the state, starting with the governor, to make implementing the new law a high-speed priority.
The Fort Dodge Messenger. Jan. 29, 2016
Iowa Power Farming Show starts Tuesday.
What organizers say is the largest indoor agricultural equipment show in the upper Midwest — and the third largest in the United States — kicks off Tuesday and continues through Thursday at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The 2016 Iowa Power Farming Show features 7 acres of indoor exhibit space and includes participation by approximately 780 companies not only from across the United States, but also from several Canadian provinces. There are expected to be approximately 1,840 booths. Many new exhibitors will be among the companies showcasing products.
Attendance at the show is expected to exceed 20,000. The vast majority of those who attend each year are farm operators. And they're not just from Iowa. The show is becoming known throughout the Midwest and people travel from throughout the region to participate in this enormous event.
The location in central Iowa means growers in the Hawkeye State can see the next big things in agriculture without incurring heavy travel expenses.
The Iowa Power Farming Show is owned and managed by the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association, which represents more than 400 agricultural and outdoor power equipment dealers throughout Iowa and Nebraska.
The 2016 incarnation of the Iowa Power Farming show just might turn out to be the grandest ever. Don't miss the opportunity to be part of this exceptionally important event. And while you are there be sure to pay a visit to the Farm News booth.
The Quad-City Times. Jan. 27, 2016
Iowa's drug fantasyland.
The Iowa House's stodgy politics too often belong in the Dark Ages. And, with combatants in the War on Drugs in full retreat, it's time to stop making criminals our of Iowa's citizens.
The Democrat-dominated state Senate voted in April to legalize medical marijuana. The bill died in the Republican-controlled House. Further, Iowa is among just 16 states that don't permit widespread access to naloxone, a lifesaving antidote for opiate overdose.
Welcome to the 21st century, representatives. We'd be happy to have you.
Pot is an effective treatment for a slew of ailments, from post-traumatic stress to chemotherapy-induced nausea, studies have shown. And, yet, Republicans are quick to strike it down. Comically, now-unenforced federal law is the excuse. Apparently, the states' rights party is only on patrol when it befits them.
Meanwhile, states throughout the country are adopting common sense medical marijuana laws. Illinois's burgeoning program is just now getting off the ground. State medical officials continuously review what conditions should qualify for marijuana access. Growers and physicians are under strict oversight. It's a highly regulated program designed to ease Illinoisan's pain.
Iowans, on the contrary, are faced with a court date.
It's especially troubling because Iowa's pot ban effectively makes a criminal of anyone who crosses the Mississippi River looking for treatment. Sure, they can get a prescription from a doctor. They can even buy it. But enter the state and face a charge.
Slashing the cost of the criminal justice system is one of Gov. Terry Branstad's focuses this legislative session, remember. Here's an idea: Back off on prosecuting marijuana users.
Naloxone is in the same GOP-directed holding pattern as medical marijuana. Again, the Senate passed legislation to make the drug available to addicts' families. The House refused to act. All the while, the heroin epidemic continues to sweep throughout rural and urban communities.
Heroin knows no economic privilege. It doesn't see color. It feeds off of anyone looking for an escape. It thrives on the human condition.
Illinois Democrats overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto this past year, making naloxone more available. And, even in that case, Rauner's dissent was more about funding the treatment than issuing the drug. Clearly, Illinois's Republican governor understands the importance of quick action when an opiate user takes too much.
For years, the U.S. has pumped Americans full of pain killers. Drugs, such as Oxycodone, pervade society. And slinging the highly addictive pain killers on the black market is big business.
It's a society-wide problem that can't be fixed with punitive measures alone. Treatment, not jail, is the key. But a user has to live long enough to get help. That's where naloxone comes in.
Iowa House Republicans spent last year clinging to punitive, draconian policy, while Illinois came to its senses. Iowa House Republicans preferred a "just say no" fantasyland, instead of facing the harsh realities of the human condition.
They should rejoin reality in 2016.