By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News
Mt. Pleasant residents came prepared with plenty of questions about economic development in Henry County for state Rep. Dave Heaton (R-Mt. Pleasant) and Sen. Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant) during the legislative breakfast on Saturday, Jan. 27.
The event was the first of four forums with legislators. Heaton began the conversation by saying he feels ?like a bus lurching down a highway, going from one side to the other,? trying to figure out what issues will be dealt with in the legislative session this year, including tax reform, education, infrastructure, mental health and rural access hospitals.
Taylor said that before considering the elimination of corporate income tax, the senate needs to look at the total tax package. ?To say that Iowa is one of the worst corporate friendly environments as far as taxes ? doesn?t figure in a lot of the tax credits these corporations are getting,? he said.
Heaton said a main concern is that when corporations such as Heatilator make sales outside of the state of Iowa, those sales are exempt from corporate income tax. Taking that example, only fireplaces sold within Iowa are subjected to Iowa?s corporate income tax, said Heaton, trying to illustrate how complex the request of the elimination of corporate income tax is.
?That?s a tremendous advantage for any companies in our state doing business nationally and internationally,? he said.
Since 2013, tax credits have gone from $280 million to almost $600 million in 2017. Taylor said that the legislature has to look at these tax credits, earned income, corporate tax and everything else to see if big corporations like John Deere and Rockwell Collins are doing anything to deserve them.
Heaton said that over all, the status of tax credits requires a lot of analysis.
Kristi Ray, Executive Vice President for the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Allinace, asked Heaton if it would be possible to see what tax credits are actually used in Henry County. ?I would still like to know which [tax credits] we need to protect that are helping us,? she said. ?There are a few that we use, and we use them very effectively.?
Heaton said he would have to ask if they have the technology to get tax credit analysis on a per county basis.
When it comes to the windfall from federal tax cuts, Taylor said that before the state continues paying that money, he would first like to see it. As far as returning the money to tax payers, Taylor said he believes the state needs to make sure their finances are in order first to properly fund areas such as education, which would improve Iowa?s workforce shortage.
Heaton believes fixing Iowa?s workforce shortage begins by connecting elementary through high school education to the real world through community and four-year colleges. ?The opportunity for our young people, starting perhaps in junior high, is to identify occupations they might be interested in and programs of study they would like to move toward,? he said.
The legislature is very hesitant to make any reduction in funds to community colleges, Heaton said, as community colleges are a gateway to the Iowa workforce and four-year institutions. Community colleges also fulfill job needs in the state. Heaton said that the governor?s Future Iowa Workforce proposal for 2020 is to offer scholarships to students at both two- and four-year colleges that cover the cost of tuition and books at the community college rate.
In light of the de-appropriation bill, which would cut community college?s general aid by $5 million, Taylor said he doesn?t think the state?s commitment to community college is that great.
?It shows me a complete disrespect for education,? Taylor said.
As the floor was opened for questions from the audience, Correctional Officer Mark Masterson asked if the state was going to find use for the empty buildings around the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility.
Heaton has sent a proposal to the governor for those buildings to be used for inmates who are sex offenders and need long-term care to be away from the community while living in an environment that supports them in their last days.
Mayor Steve Brimhall jumped in, saying that the buildings are air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter and are a cost to the state if left empty.
Taylor said they were originally thinking of getting a private provider to provide some mental health care in those buildings, but with Medicaid, it would be difficult to reimburse providers. ?I think we?d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would want to come in and do that,? he said.
Moving the conversation on to health care, Heaton reiterated the importance of critical access hospitals like Henry County Health Center (HCHC) despite conversations around consolidation of rural hospitals.
?How would you like the ambulance to be rolling up here from Burlington or running down here from Iowa City?? Heaton said. ?It?s all about making sure you?ve got a chance if something really terrible happens to you.
?[Critical access hospitals] might, over a period of time, change their focus, but to say gone and consolidate, I don?t agree with that,? Heaton continued. ?I?ll do anything I can to resist a consolidation of our critical access hospital.?
Taylor agreed, saying that when people look to move to a new town, they look at schools, housing and health care. To continue to grow or sustain rural communities, access to hospitals needs to be a priority. He too said he was fighting to keep critical access hospitals open.
HCHC CEO Robb Gardner thanked Heaton and Taylor for their support, saying that the privatization of Medicaid has severely impacted the finances of critical access hospitals with most operating at a -3 percent operating margin.
Other topics Heaton and Taylor touched on were IPERS and the water quality bill. Heaton said, ?There is no way in the world the House of Representatives is going to touch IPERS at all. It?s doing a great job. I wouldn?t touch it with a 10 foot pole.?
Taylor said that when it comes to water quality, the state needs new money to tackle the issue. ?It?s time for us to get up off our hands and stand up and demand we pass a sales tax increase,? he said.
The next Legislative Breakfast with a focus on education is on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 8:30 a.m. at Iowa Wesleyan University?s Chadwick Library.