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Johnson reviews “dark clouds and silver linings”

By Staff | May 3, 2008

State Senator David Johnson, who represents Dickinson, Clay, O’Brien, Osceola, and Sioux counties, met with the Daily News this week to discuss what he saw as the “dark clouds and silver linings” of the 2008 Legislature.

“There’s more dark clouds out of this session than there is sunshine,” said the assistant minority leader from Ocheydan.

Johnson put high on the winner’s list the Legislature upping the ante for community colleges to $10.5 million, a boon for rural counties.

That’s substantially more than the $2 million Governor Chet Culver proposed but a little short of the $12.5 million the college presidents had requested.

Johnson lauded the bipartisan effort to bring more ethanol-blended fuel with blender pumps.

The Legislature approved the first step toward a constitutional amendment to establish a protected for water quality, said Johnson. If it makes it all the way through, the amendment will dedicate three-eighths of the next penny of sales tax to water quality, conservation, and natural resources.

“I think it’s good for this area, especially,” Johnson said.

The Legislature found money to help centers for victims of domestic violence. That’s particularly important, given the fact federal funding was cut $400,000 this year, Johnson said.

Another positive was setting goals for the Hawkeye state insurance program for children.

And then there were the dark clouds, Johnson observed.

“We only gave a bandaid to the bottle bill,” Johnson said, disappointed that handling fees were not added.

Another downside was no property tax reform but instead a $500 million property tax increase over the next five years, taking the production formula on ag land into consideration. He said that amounts to a 4 percent yearly increase.

Johnson said Republicans hope Governor Culver vetoes the collective bargaining bill. He said public employee unions and elected officials were lined up against the bill since they believe it would take away their authority.

Another negative was no longterm answer to the transportation infrastructure. While the Iowa Department of Transportation estimates it will take $200 million a year for 20 years to fix the state’s road system, Johnson noted the governor took any consideration of fuel tax increases off the table right away.

One of the major problems Johnson saw with this and the previous session was a $900-million increase in state spending in two years.

“That’s going to be hard to maintain once there’s an economic slowdown,” he said, pointing out that the increase was more than during the entire eight years of the Vilsack administration. He said there was a $700-million increase in taxes and fees this year.

“We stood ready to help find a common ground but the majority party had laid out the agenda,” Johnson said, summing up the session.