The Ottumwa Courier

September 11, 2013

Tell me your troubles ...

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — If state government is a two-way street, then elected officials who report what they're doing in Des Moines should also be listening to what voters want them to do next.

That's why state Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, was visiting businesses in her district, she said: Recent changes may impact Iowa's business climate. She went to willing company managers this week to find out if they had questions about recently passed laws or wanted to see something addressed in Des Moines.

"Property tax is something we worked on," Gaskill said Wednesday. "This is the first time I've been able to vote for a property tax [reduction] bill ... since 2003. That's because this one will not devastate local government; it will be back filled by the state."

The only bump in the road may come if the economy worsens again. Income for the state is more dependent than most revenue streams upon how much citizens are earning (income tax) and how much is being spent (sales tax) in the state.

This session didn't see the same reduction in residential property tax.

"We could think about some sort of incentive," she said.

Though Gaskill just started making the rounds in Wapello County and other areas for this set of visits, she has heard concerns about businesses spending too much time doing paperwork or otherwise complying with government regulations. In some cases, that red tape comes from the federal government, she said, but not always.

She's also heard about fairness issues that don't seem to make sense. One business making a product has to go through inspections, but nearby owners of different types of business can make and sell the same product without a state inspection. Utility rates, set with permission of Iowa's Utility Board, may seem unfair to some businesses, too. That's especially true with a seasonal business. If they do all of their business in winter, for example, and none in warmer weather, then their utility costs in winter will be very high. Well, they explained to Gaskill, billing is determined for the year based upon the highest bill.

The subject of the bottle bill comes up from two sectors, supermarkets, which don't like the idea of storing thousands of cans, devoting an employee to can return and have cleanliness concerns, and redemption centers, like Tenco in Ottumwa, which get a penny per can, the same they've received for more than 20 years.

"We are going to look at it again," Gaskill said about the bottle bill.

One place there were fewer complaints, Gaskill noticed, was on the subject of a gas tax increase. That money would go to highway repairs.

She said just like some citizens may feel their county or town is not maintained well enough to draw economic growth, the state is not keeping up their roads. Someone coming to Iowa with the idea of expanding their business might be disappointed in poorly maintained roads, she acknowledged.

Besides businesses in her district, Gaskill stopped at the Southern Iowa Food Bank. Though food insecurity is still a problem in southern Iowa, the food bank had some good things to report.

"They were glad ... Iowa food banks received a million dollars," she said.

She said they also talked locally about the ways the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation and businesses like Hy-Vee have been so supportive of their efforts to distribute food.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark