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The Courtney Report

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I always want to hear your ideas for improving state government. After all, I work for you. You can e-mail or call me any time.

You may also want to check out “Public Input: Improving State Government” on the Iowa Legislature’s website: www.legis.iowa.gov. This public comment page was set up in 2009 for Iowans to submit ideas or view the suggestions of others.

Every two years, a State Government Efficiency Review Committee, made up of 10 legislators, meets to review state government operations and consider ways to modernize processes, eliminate unnecessary work, reduce costs and increase accountability.

The public comment page is one of the resources legislators use to come up with recommendations for making state government more efficient and responsive to Iowans’ needs.

STATE GOVERNMENT IS WORKING FOR YOU
During the federal government shutdown, I get many questions about how things are working at the state level. I’m proud to say the state of Iowa is open for business.

Legislators are focused on making state government work for Iowa citizens. We’re always looking for ways to ensure government runs efficiently and offers good service to Iowans.

In fact, Iowa is considered the fifth best run state in the country, according to 24/7 Wall Street. Our strong agricultural economy, falling unemployment, excellent credit rating and well-managed budget give Iowa its good financial health, standard of living and government services.

This year, legislators continued our push for a leaner, more transparent government that is responsive to Iowans’ needs by:

1. Balancing the state budget without raising taxes. Iowa has a budget surplus of about $721 million. We also have $649 million in our reserve funds. That’s the largest amount in state history and the eighth best in the country, according to a national report by the Tax Foundation.

2. Cutting taxes to create jobs and spur economic growth. The tax reforms we approved this year include reducing commercial property taxes for all Iowa businesses while helping small businesses the most. We also voted to put some of our budget surplus back into the pockets of Iowa taxpayer and help low-income Iowans work their way out of poverty by boosting the state Earned Income Tax Credit.

3. Standing up for citizens’ right to know. Iowans now have a free, efficient method to ensure government officials comply with Iowa’s open meetings and records laws. The newly formed Iowa Public Information Board helps citizens with questions and concerns about their rights to information. In addition, we’re developing an online database that will allow Iowans to search the state’s budget expenditures and tax revenue to see how their tax dollars are spent.

4. Improving customer service and saving money through efficiencies. New initiatives include an online driver’s license renewal system and giving Iowans the option to show proof of insurance on their electronic driving record rather than carrying the documentation. These and other cost-saving efforts at the Iowa Department of Transportation are freeing up more of your tax dollars to fix our roads.

GROW MIDDLE CLASS BY KEEPING COLLEGE AFFORDABLE
One of the best ways we can expand Iowa’s middle class is by making higher education more affordable.

That’s why the Legislature approved funding to freeze tuition this fall. It was the first time in more than 30 years that tuition didn’t increase for Iowa undergrads at our state universities—University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University. In September, the Iowa Board of Regents agreed to continue the tuition freeze next year if state support increased significantly. I’m also keeping my eye on community college tuition and fees, which increased by an average of 2.8 percent this fall.

During the recession, tuition costs and student debt both skyrocketed in Iowa while the state’s investment in higher education fell by almost 25 percent. Iowa ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to the debt load of our college graduates, according to new data from College InSight. Today, 72 percent of college students in Iowa borrow to finance their education. By the time they graduate, they’ve racked up an average of $28,753 in debt.

Freezing tuition by controlling costs and increasing state investment is much better than asking struggling families to take out even more student loans. For the last three years, Senate Democrats have led the push to invest more in our state universities and community colleges. I hope we can again reach a compromise that will allow us to extend the tuition freeze at our state universities and keep our community colleges affordable.

NEWS YOU CAN USE
Apply for Rural Arts Grants

Through November 1, the Iowa Arts Council is accepting applications for Rural Arts Development Grants, which provide up to $5,000 to arts projects in rural Iowa. Eligible applicants include nonprofit organizations, schools, tribal councils, and local, county, state and federal government agencies. Complete details and an application are available at www.iowaartscouncil.org.

Apply for health care coverage

You can now explore your new health care options and apply for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.HealthCare.gov. Coverage starts as early as January 1, 2014. The Marketplace will automatically tell you if you qualify for discounts or state programs based on your income.

You can choose the health plan that’s right for you through the online plan comparison tool. If you don’t have access to a computer or need assistance, dial the 24/7 call center at 1-800-318-2596.

Tips for staying safe online

Throughout October, Iowans are encouraged to increase their cyber security. Cyber Security Awareness Month is a national campaign to educate the public, businesses, schools and government agencies about avoiding cyber security threats, as well as ways to secure their part of cyber space, computers and our nation’s critical infrastructure.

At www.us-cert.gov/home-and-business, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team offers helpful ideas and resources for keeping your home and work computers safe. You’ll get the information you need to:

• Stay safe on social networking sites

• Choose and protect passwords

• Prevent and respond to identity theft

• Effectively erase files

Need help with your heating bill?

As the weather turns colder, low-income Iowa homeowners and renters can get help paying their heating costs. The 2013-14 Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides assistance based on household income, household size, type of fuel and type of housing. For complete details, call 515-281-0859 or go to www.dcaa.iowa.gov/bureau_EA/app_acceptance.html.

State parks are open for fall fun

Good news: State parks are OPEN during the federal government shutdown!

Fall in Iowa is a great time to enjoy the outdoors. Take advantage of the beautiful days by heading to one of our state parks. For a listing of state parks, go to www.iowadnr.gov/parks.

Keep in mind, anything under federal control—facilities run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Monuments, Federal Refuges and other federal areas—are closed during the federal shutdown.

Contact Tom
CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/courtney

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