Saturday, January 31, 2009

January LWV Liveblog

January LWV Liveblog

The Johnson County tradition kicks off for the session: the last Saturday of the month League of Women Voters forum. Cosponsor is Iowa City school district.

Who's here: Reps. Marek, Mascher, Jacoby, Lensing, Willems, and Sens. Schmitz, Dvorsky. Sen. Bolkcom is at an environmental conference and notes that it's his first absence in 11 years. Other notables here" Mayor Regenia Bailey, Supervisor Rod Sullivan, and Patti Fields from the school board. Hahn and Kaufmann are MIA, so attendance is Dems, 7 of 8, GOP, zero of 2.

Marek leads off and calls himself "the senior freshman." Voted no on the sales tax bill: "I voted my district, and for the people of my district who go north to shop it would have been a tax increase. But for the people of Johnson and Linn I'm glad it passed."

Lensing next. Budget's rough, UI flood recovery is rough.

Willems: looking at campaign finance reform, perhaps through constitutional amendment. Doing non-headline work on Judiciary and court/corrections budget. Wants to push Fair Share and prevailing wage on Labor. "There are constitutional implications" to indigent defense and public defender cuts proposed by Guv. "We will have a debate in Des Moines as to what the purpose of the rainy day fund is."

Schmitz: Chairing Education where allowable growth, dropout age and writing assessments are big.

Dvorsky: "Johnson County will probably have sales tax on the ballot on May 4." "There's not enough resources from the state or even the feds" for flood recovery, but "finally after all these years we have a partner in DC."

Mascher says the flood recovery and sales tax bills were passed "with record speed" and now it's up to voters. "There are many, many needs out there." IPERS lost $4 billion last quarter. Menal health parity finally moving ahead.

Jacoby says Iowa's "sitting better than 46 other states" because of rainy day fund, Predicts a 27-24 Arizona win tomorrow.

Education questions lead off. Mascher talks about 7% allowable growth and says the instructional support levy is good because "it's an income tax based on ability to pay." (As for my ability to write, laptop heat issues are interfering.) Legislators are split on dropout age. Fields says fully funding the instructional support levy would be $900k to Iowa City district.

The anti-smokers don't give up even though they won last year, but the question focuses on funding cessation programs rather than the casino ban. Mascher says $'s tough, but the tax increase helped. Says some of the rural legislators are getting pressure to repeal. Lensing says border areas too especially quad cities.

Interesting: the anti-smokers seem more sympathetic to me now that they have the ban. Last year they couldn't talk more than three sentences without seeming contemptuous of smokers. But now their concern for cessation seems sincere.

Sullivan talks mental health funding: "there's no way we can more forward without a waiting list." Mascher: "I look at this as a federal issue, we need health care for all" including mental health. She offers praise for Daschle (who's in a little hot water now; part of me hope's he won't survive and Howard Dean will get his role yet). Willems notes his frustration: county supervisors came up to him at campaign time saying, raise the property tax cap so we can deal with mental health funding, we'll take the heat. But now that he's in the legislature, it's a nonstarter because "ooh, that's a tax increase."

Susan Enzle continues the mental health thread.

Mike Carberry next with the Sierra Club's general spectrum of environmental question. Marek talks wind energy; "Every nine turbines is a job." As for CAFOs, "there's a few bad apples but most farmers are doing a good job. We need one set of rules across the state." The bikers continue the environmental discussion. Mascher says bike-friendly stuff is moving, but Bolkcom's the point guy on that.

One of the traditions is that the junior high kids ask the last questions. Interesting questions usually, even though they sometimes slop over into non-state issues. Special ed funding, water pollution, smoking, DNR funding, economy, flood recovery, feed lots, fair trade. All the legislators take a crack at one or two. "You've done more homework on these questions than some of our colleagues," Lensing tells the kids.

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