The Ottumwa Courier

March 1, 2014

Politicians accused of playing politics

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA - If we hire a scientist to research a problem, maybe elected officials can get out of the way when the answer is found.

That was just one of the suggestions at the League of Women Voters legislative forum. Several dozen Iowans questioned three state Legislators on subjects ranging from taxes to mental health.

But one man wanted to know why Iowa Department of Natural Resources scientists would seek out answers, make recommendations to improve the lives of Iowans, then be ignored because of politics. He was asked if he was talking about a specific subject, and said he was not.

State Rep. Mary Gaskil, D-Ottumwa, said she's seen the political games played at the Department of Human Services as well as the DNR. The heads of both agencies are appointed by the state's governor. When they're in office, they then receive direction from the governor's office.

"So they aren't really free to do what they think is right," Gaskill said.

Her solution, she said, would be campaign laws being revamped.

Rep. Larry Sheets, R-Moulton, has a different view. In a sense, he said, we could ask the question to concern "elected officials" and a "bureaucracy."

"So we have elected officials interfering with bureaucracy," Sheets said. "Sometimes, bureaucracy needs to be interfered with."

Democracy is messy, he said. The people of Iowa didn't vote for the scientists, they voted for the legislators. Scientific data can be considered, but the officials, who represent the voters, must make the final decisions based on multiple factors.

Other subjects included funding for schools, services for Iowa veterans and mental health equality among counties.

One way to get funding for such things, said Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, is to have a better business climate.

He said when Iowa lowered the corporate taxes on one industry, insurance, the number of successful insurance companies in Des Moines increased.

"Iowa now rivals Connecticut," he said about insurance businesses.

On the other hand, when Rubbermaid left the state, he called and asked why they would just up and leave. They didn't want to say. Finally, someone at the company told Chelgren, "Look at your tax code."

Kansas was at 4 percent. Iowa was three times that. Leaving and taking all those jobs was, Chelgren said, an easy decision.

Lowering corporate tax, said Sheets, means revenue in Iowa actually increases. And more jobs means more residents.

Yet Gaskill and some audience members were worried that lower business taxes would mean higher personal taxes.

"I haven't been convinced," said Gaskill. "I think we're at the middle ground" compared to other states as far as how much Iowa taxes companies.

Chelgren did say we have to be cautious not to overtax people, because like companies, people can pack up and leave, too. So retirees being taxed on their pensions may find it wise to move to a warmer, less taxing state.

- Reporter Mark Newman can be found on Twitter @couriermark