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December 2012
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Archive for December 8, 2012

The Courtney Report

When looking ahead to the 2013 session of the Iowa Legislature, continuing to create jobs and grow Iowa’s economy tops my priority list.

We need to do what we can to help more Iowans recover from the national recession. Ensuring that workers can get the training they need must be part of our statewide effort.

This is important because the current skill shortage is proving to be a serious drag on Iowa’s economy. By 2018, 62 percent of all jobs in Iowa—1.1 million jobs—will require some training or education beyond high school. Yet nearly 10 percent of Iowa’s working-age adults do not have a high school diploma.

By investing now in worker training and retraining, we can make sure Iowans are ready to step into new jobs as the economy rebounds.

Last year, we took a step in the right direction by approving the biggest single-year increase in state general aid to community colleges. We also created new opportunities to earn non-credit skill certificates and launched the new Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant, also known as “Kibbie Grants.” (More on the grants below!)

Here are other ways we can invest in Iowans and in Iowa businesses:

• Cutting commercial property taxes for every Iowa business, especially for small businesses.

• Cutting taxes for working families struggling to make ends meet, thereby boosting the local economy.

• Making it more likely that Iowa and U.S. companies will get state and local government contracts when their bids are cost competitive.

We’ve made bipartisan progress on these issues in the last couple of years. My hope for 2013 is that we’ll keep working together and take some big steps forward.

The new legislative session starts on January 14. Please tell me what you think should be done to boost economic growth and job creation here in Iowa. Call or e-mail me with your ideas.

Iowa ranks 13th in overall business friendliness but only 40th when it comes to labor supply. That’s why I’m working to help Iowans get the skills they need to fill in-demand jobs.

Iowa’s agricultural manufacturers need more welders, and Iowa businesses in almost every field can’t find enough people to run computers and manage software. When employers can’t find the skilled workers they need in Iowa, they lose business to competitors, hire people from another state or some other country to do the work, or move their business out of Iowa.

By 2018, 62 percent of all jobs in Iowa will require some training or education beyond high school. In addition to credentials, employers need workers with the professional skills necessary to succeed in the workplace, such as dependability, time management and initiative.

That’s why I fought this year for $5 million in Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grants for students attending Iowa’s community colleges. Senate File 2321, approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, provides grants to Iowans studying full- or part-time at one of our community colleges and are in need of financial help to cover their tuition. Grants are awarded for study in areas where Iowa doesn’t have enough workers with the right skills.

About 4,500 students are eligible for the grants this school year. The maximum Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant is $2,040 for eligible Iowa students who enroll on a full-time basis during the 2012-13 academic year. Grants for full-time students are intended to cover one-half of the average tuition and fees at Iowa community colleges.

A complete summary of the Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant is available at For a list of the areas of study eligible for these grants, check out pages 7-10. To find out which programs are available at Southeastern Community College and Eastern Iowa Community College, contact the financial aid offices.

Donate to your local food bank this holiday season
Over the holidays, Iowans will be gathering around the dinner table to celebrate with family and friends.

But for many Iowans, it’s a real struggle to put food on the table each day. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12 percent of Iowa households often lack enough food, or must choose between buying food or buying medicine and other essentials. That means thousands of Iowa children and seniors are not getting the food they need.

During the 2012 session, legislators worked together to make sure Iowans have enough to eat by making a modest $500,000 investment in Iowa’s food banks. Our idea passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support but was vetoed by Governor Branstad.

In the meantime, Iowans have faced rising food prices and food banks have seen an increase in the number of Iowans in need.

With about a billion dollars in our savings accounts, Iowa’s state budget is in good shape. When the 2013 session rolls around in January, we ought to take another look at how we can help our food banks feed hungry Iowans. It’s the right thing to do.

During this season of giving, let’s all pitch in to stock the shelves of our local food banks and make sure no Iowan goes hungry. Please join me in supporting our community food banks and local charities.

Nominate an employer for the Support Freedom Award
Through January 17, nominations are being accepted for the Employer Support Freedom Award. This annual award, presented by the Secretary of Defense, is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers who show outstanding support for employees serving in the Guard and Reserve.

Almost one-half of the U.S. military is comprised of the Guard and Reserve. The Department of Defense shares these citizen warriors with their civilian employers, who often go to great lengths to support employees who serve our country. Do you know an employer who fits this bill? What sets them apart from others?

Any Guard or Reserve member can nominate their employer. If a service member does not have access to submit a nomination, a family member can nominate the service member’s employer on their behalf. For more details on the award or to nominate a great employer, go to

Online resources for Iowa entrepreneurs
Thinking of starting or expanding a business?

Entrepreneurs have a new online business tool to assist them in developing their products and ideas. is a one-stop shop to help Iowans access the technical and financial resources that best meet their business needs. In addition, MyEntre.Net, a service of the University of Northern Iowa, provides timely, expert webinars, blogs and resources dedicated to Iowa small businesses.

Take advantage of expert help with these great online resources available to Iowans—and get your business idea off the ground.

Contact Tom
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319

2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601

We Only Have One Earth

I swear, the way some people treat this planet they seem to think humans can hop in a boat or spaceship or something and in a couple of days they will be on another habitable planet just waiting to be plundered. We can’t.  Of course, most of those seem to be the same rich and powerful that not only run most everything in this country but also run the whole world.

The lack of a grounding in reality that the Republican Party has exhibited for the past 30 years has infected our country. At one time some of their antics were comical at best, but the delay they have caused in addressing quite serious long range issues is now forcing humanity to come face to face with grave consequences.

We recently took a little  trip south to Mississippi. During our trip we had to cross the river of the same name. The Mississippi River, the nation’s highway for over 200 years, is so low that it is about to be closed to barge traffic. This will cause a huge bottle neck in the nation’s commerce, especially moving farm products to port. At the same time reports are coming out that the Ogallala Aquifer has maybe a few decades of water left at  the current rates of usage. The Ogallala is used mostly for irrigation, so as it dies, so does much of the farming in the plains.

The water in the Ogallala does not appear through some miracle. Water just isn’t dumped into underground storage through the act of some super human entity.  No, it is refilled by a very slow trickle through the ground process that will take tens of thousand years or more. There is no other way. The rate of rainfall that will be used to recharge the aquifer is slowing due to climate change. Thus the recharge may take even longer.

The Great Lakes are losing water also.  All are down many inches, which is billions of gallons of water. Governments around the Great lakes have already formed a sort of defense force to keep their precious resource from being stolen from them. Water is slowly becoming the forefront of the climate change. At some point decisions will have to be made on who will get the most precious resource we need to live, next to oxygen.

The problem has been slowly coming to a head. Rather than initiating some tough policies to slow or stop the waste and loss of our water, we have as a people chosen to ignore the problem. Like many I thought we may still have some wiggle room until I read this op-ed on Juan Cole’s Informed Consent blog this morning. Briefly, guest poster Tom Giesen cites a potentially much warmer climate coming much faster than we expected. So what we thought was some wiggle room has disappeared. While we have been talking of a 2degC rise in temperatures in a century, changes of 4degC or more may happen in a few short decades.

Here are some excerpts, but I recommend you read the entire story.

“Global warming’s disasters once seemed far off and science-fictional. It is now becoming clear to the scientific community that, to the contrary, very bad things could happen beginning relatively soon. For Baby Boomers, from the the Cuban Missile Crisis or the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s till now does not seem like such a long period of time. But in a similar span of years, taking us to about 2060, the world could well experience an increase in global average temperatures of some 4 degrees Centigrade[1]. If we consider the likely effects of this steep warming trend carefully, it becomes clear that the resulting “four degrees” world (as scientists call it) is far less hospitable for humans than our own, a world so inhospitable that we must avoid creating it at any cost.

Consider these scenarios, thought highly likely by scientists:

A temperature increase of 4 degrees C. will cause a 40% reduction in corn and rice crops, and loss of other agricultural produce, as well. The world doesn’t have fewer mouths to feed over time, and a decline in these key staples will likely produce widespread starvation..

People will be forced from their homes, like so many Syrian refugees, on a grand scale — from coastal areas because of rising seas; from areas no longer habitable due to high temperatures or drought; and from changing industrial and commercial practices.

Other effects include ice melting, weather extremes, ocean acidification, loss of coral reefs, changes in stream flows, large losses in biodiversity, water shortages, forest dieback and fires, and so on – the list is very long.

A temperature increase of 4 degrees C is now thought likely to cause the disintegration of an organized global community. A four degree world will likely be so altered that human society cannot adapt to it.”

Wish I had some comforting words, but I do not. Science has known of climate change for a hundred years. Lyndon Johnson warned of the effects of climate change nearly 50 years ago and urged action then. We were warned and have done nothing thanks in major part to those who make money effectively stopping any action.