Budget stalemate, flood relief issues
The budget stalemate continues.
Unfortunately, legislative leadership and the governor’s office have yet to find common ground on the pressing issues preventing closure of the session. While Senate majority leadership fights for preschool funding and 2 percent allowable growth for schools, the governor demands bi-annual budgeting.
I support efforts to strengthen our schools, and I oppose bi-annual budgeting. A two-year budget would expand the powers of the executive office. This precedent would allow Branstad and future governors to choose the winners and losers of mid-budget adjustments.
In the closing days, it’s important to keep our focus on strengthening Iowa’s middle class. With nearly $1 billion in surplus and savings, we must balance the budget while providing tax relief to middle-class families and small businesses. There’s no need to back up on our commitments to good-paying jobs, quality schools and affordable higher education.
We must continue efforts to reform Iowa’s property tax system. While there is agreement that commercial property taxes are too high, crafting a solution that won’t raise taxes on homeowners and farmers continues to be the biggest obstacle. Currently, there are two plans on the table.
I support a plan that would provide up to $200 million in property tax relief targeted to Main Street — locally-owned businesses. These small businesses make up 83 percent of commercial property taxpayers. Easing their burden would eventually put them in a position to hire more help.
An alternate proposal, supported by the House majority and the governor’s office, would cut commercial property taxes by 25 percent over the next five years. However, the plan does not require the state to make up the difference. This means homeowners, who already shoulder 49 percent of the property tax burden, would foot the bill. This is a bad move for Iowa. I want to see families move into the middle-class not be forced out.
In talking with local officials, I’ve learned the plan would also have a devastating impact on schools, essential services and local job efforts.
In addition to preparing for the Governor’s Education Summit, I’ve taken advantage of the extra days under the golden dome to further study and follow up on several issues. This week, I focused on flood recovery and prevention efforts.
As you know, flood waters devastated several communities in Jasper County last summer. Jasper County was declared a Federal Disaster Area, as well as neighboring Marion County. In my column published on March 18, I told you about Project Recovery Iowa. This week, I checked in with Cara McCulley, team lead of the program, for an update on flood recovery efforts. According to Cara, some residents are currently experiencing new water damage to their property. Granted, the situation is less dramatic than last summer, still the devastation of damage to homes and loss of irreplaceable items, like family photographs, weighs heavy on some of our neighbors.
The cost of replacing necessary items is a strain on family budgets. Some families simply cannot replace their property and have to do without. I was particularly upset to learn about a number of Colfax families in dire need. One year after losing everything, they lack funds to have the remains of their property bull-dozed and disposed of properly. Instead of moving on, these families simply sign onto a wait-list for the fire department to burn down what was once home. It is heartbreaking to hear these stories.
The mental trauma of flooding is an expense that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. The mission of Project Recovery Iowa is to help flood survivors cope with the aftermath of the disaster. This federally funded program provides counseling, education, information and resource referral to those in need. I’m impressed by their efforts. Since October, the Jasper County team has had nearly 500 individual crisis counseling encounters. They have led 51 educational group sessions, reaching over 2,500 participants.
I asked Cara how Project Recovery Iowa serves children who suffer from flood-related trauma. She acknowledged this is a tremendous challenge. Kids react to crisis differently than adults. Care must be suitable for their needs and the message has to be “kid friendly.” To this end, the team has developed several programs suitable for schools, day cares, and libraries. They read children’s books, present a puppet show, educate on normal rain cycle and encourage the children to share.
Three events for kids are planned in the coming weeks. On Monday at 10 a.m., Project Recovery Iowa will host a story time/puppet show at the Newton YMCA. The same program is planned for the Baxter Public Library at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, and the Colfax Public Library at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 7, but will meet at the Christian Church. All children and parents are invited to attend these free events.
If you or someone you know is still struggling with problems left behind by flood waters of 2010 or current damage, contact Project Recovery Iowa. Help is available 24/7 at 1-800-477-1985. Counselors will put you in touch with Cara and the local team serving Jasper and Marion Counties.
In a future column, I will discuss the flood issue from an environmental perspective. First, it is important for us to take a look at what flooding has done to local families. I’d like to know your flood-related story.
Feel free to contact me any time at (641) 521-9260 or e-mail email@example.com. Visit my website at www.electkelley.com or “friend” me on Facebook. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
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