Iowa Policy Project
Once again the policy analysts at the Iowa Policy Project dig way below the surface to give us the facts. As we all know, it is better to go into a discussion armed with facts and not talking points. For the past 12 years the IPP has been arming us with facts and actual repercussions. And once again we thank them greatly for allowing us to use their hard work.
Note: This brief is available on our website at this link: http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2013docs/130305-minwage.pdf
March 5, 2013
IPP POLICY BRIEF
Minimum Wage: Off the Pace Again
Five Years Past Increase, Buying Power Eats Through Wage Floor
By Heather Gibney
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Iowa was among the leading states with its minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for non-tipped workers. That was then. This is now.
When 10 states raised their minimum wage on January 1, Iowa was not one of them. Iowa’s minimum wage has remained at $7.25 for five years, since the last increase — from $6.20 on January 1, 2008, the second part of a two-step increase approved by Iowa lawmakers in 2007. The federal wage did not catch up until July 2009, when it reached $7.25. Since then, neither the federal nor state minimum wage has changed to help Iowa families working at or near that hourly level. Every year that goes by without increasing the minimum wage affects Iowa families who are trying to keep their heads above water. The cost of living increases nearly every year, so the buying power of every dollar continues to erode.
Today, the federal minimum wage is near its historic low — having lost 22 percent of its buying power from its peak in 1968, as shown in Figure 1. (note: see figures at link). If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be worth $9.25 per hour today.
Recognizing that the federal minimum wage is too low, 19 states and the District of Columbia have a higher minimum wage than the federal, states with the highest being Washington at $9.19 per hour and Oregon at $8.95. Under the federal minimum wage law, a full-time Iowa worker earning a minimum wage makes $290 per week or about $15,000 per year before taxes, credits and cash assistance. There are some exceptions: Tipped employees in Iowa such as waiters or waitresses earn $4.35 an hour, while new employees under 20 years of age can be paid as low as $4.25 per hour for their first 90 days of employment.
In Iowa, nearly three-fourths of Iowa’s working single parents earn less than a family supporting wage. A single parent with two children has basic, no-frills monthly expenses of about $3,545, or $42,540 annually, according to IPP’s most recent Cost of Living in Iowa report.  This means that this family would have to make $48,111 a year before taxes were taken out and credits and cash incentives were included in order to support themselves — a supporting wage of $24.06 an hour.
Using either that measure or the federal poverty level, the minimum wage does not keep a full-time worker out of poverty. The most current official poverty guidelines for a single parent with two children is $18,498 — $3,000 more than for full-time minimum-wage work and much less than a family supporting income. Poverty guidelines are the basis for determining eligibility for public programs designed to support struggling workers. 
The calculations that underlie the federal poverty guidelines assume that food is a larger expense than it is today and it ignores the fact that housing and transportation take up a much larger portion of a family’s budget than they did in the 1960s when the guidelines were developed. In addition, poverty guidelines do not account for taxes, cash assistance, the increasing costs of child care and healthcare, and changes in consumer spending. Even this inadequate poverty level exceeds the minimum wage. Up until about 1980, an adult earning minimum wage with two children could support her family at about the poverty level. But as Figure 2 shows, this is no longer the case. (note: see figure 2 at link to IPP).
What a Higher Minimum Wage Would Mean in Iowa
In 2012, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012 was introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives — this would have incrementally raised the federal minimum wage to $9.80 per hour by 2014. The rate would then have been indexed to inflation each year thereafter to keep up with the cost of living, a practice that 10 states have already adopted. A 2012 study from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that this bill if enacted would have affected 332,000 Iowans, 81 percent of whom are 20 or older, and 45 percent of whom work full time.
In the recent State of the Union address, President Obama made the case that raising the minimum wage was a necessary step in the effort to grow our economy. He proposed raising the wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour and indexing it yearly to keep up with the cost of living. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has introduced a bill to raise the wage in three increments to $10.10, and index it.  Passage of any of these proposals in the U.S. Congress, however, is in doubt.
Raising the minimum wage would restore much of its historic value and make an enormous difference to millions of families. More than 30 million American workers would get a raise under the bill. More than half of these are women (17 million). The vast majority (88 percent) are adult workers, not teen-agers, and 23 million children (30 percent of all children) have parents who would get a raise. Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would give $51.5 billion in raises to millions of workers over the course of three increases, and increase GDP by nearly $33 billion as workers spend their raises in their local businesses and communities. This economic activity would generate an estimated 140,000 new jobs over the course of three increases.
These benefits would come at little risk of the pitfalls forecast by opponents, who can be counted upon in every minimum-wage debate to warn — without evidence — that jobs will be lost. Despite economists’ thorough study of the employment impact of the minimum wage, this ill-advised argument continues to drive opposition rhetoric against minimum-wage improvements. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has examined the most recent empirical research on the minimum wage since the early 2000s to determine the best current estimates of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on the employment prospects of low-wage workers. It found that minimum wage increases are consistently associated with statistically significant and economically meaningful increases in the wages of affected workers. Employers and workers are able to adjust to an increase in the minimum wage through several different channels — explaining why the employment effect is so small.
The American Dream is supposed to be about creating a better life for yourself and your children. If you work hard and play by the rules, achieving your goals should not be out of reach. Unfortunately, millions of hard-working Americans cannot lift themselves out of poverty because they are working at such low-wage jobs. Even if they work all year long, they cannot make ends meet, much less join the middle class. Increasing the minimum wage puts money back into people’s pockets, improves the economy, and helps struggling communities thrive again.
 J.T. Rushing, “States Raising Minimum Wage,” The Gazette, January 1, 2013. http://thegazette.com/2013/01/01/states-raising-minimum-wage/
 Lily French, Peter S Fisher and Noga O’Connor, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” Iowa Policy Project, May 2012. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2012docs/120531-COL.pdf
 Lily French, Peter S Fisher and Noga O’Connor, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” Iowa Policy Project, May 2012. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2012docs/120531-COL.pdf
 However, these guidelines are flawed because they do not take into account regional differences in basic living expenses and were developed using spending patterns from over 45 years ago that are less relevant to today’s household budgets.
 Lily French, Peter S. Fisher and Noga O’Connor, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” Iowa Policy Project, May 2012. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2012docs/120531-COL.pdf
 Doug Hall and David Cooper, “How Raising the federal minimum wage would help working families and give the economy a boost,” Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief #341, August 14, 2012. http://www.epi.org/files/2012/ib341-raising-federal-minimum-wage.pdf
 Doug Hall and David Cooper, “Characteristics of workers who would be affected by increasing the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by July 2014,” Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief #341, August 14, 2012. http://www.epi.org/files/2012/minimumwagestateimpact.pdf
 Congressman George Miller, “Sen. Harkin and Rep. Miller Statement on President Obama’s Minimum Wage Proposal,” February 13, 2013. http://georgemiller.house.gov/press-release/sen-harkin-and-rep-miller-statement-president-obama%E2%80%99s-minimum-wage-proposal
 Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller, “Raising the Minimum Wage: Please cosponsor the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013,” Congress of the United States, February 25, 2013.
 John Schmitt, “Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?” Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 2013. http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/min-wage-2013-02.pdf
Heather Gibney joined the Iowa Policy Project as a research associate in September 2012. She received her master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Northern Iowa and undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice from the University of Iowa and Mount Mercy University.
The Iowa Policy Project Formed in 2001, the Iowa Policy Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. Reports are available at http://www.IowaPolicyProject.org. The Iowa Policy Project is a 501(c)3 organization. Contributions to support our work may be tax-deductible.
20 E. Market St. • Iowa City, IA 52245
(319) 338-0773 • (319) 331-1287 cell
By Peter S. Fisher
Peter Fisher is research director of the Iowa Policy Project, part of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, a joint public policy research and analysis initiative of IPP in Iowa City and another nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. He earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is professor emeritus of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa.
Debate Goes On Ignoring Underlying Issues That Demand Attention
The annual debate about commercial property taxes in Iowa is under way, and once again the discussion ignores the larger picture — that overall business taxes in Iowa are below average among states — and fails to consider reforms that should be addressed first.
It has become routine practice throughout Iowa, for example, to grant large property tax rebates to new commercial properties through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Millions of dollars per year flow back to commercial projects, sometimes eliminating nearly all property taxes for 15 or 20 years — which can be to the disadvantage of an existing commercial project not in the TIF. At the same time, some of Iowa’s largest and most profitable companies are paying no state corporate income tax due to the generosity of Iowa’s business tax credit programs. And many large multistate companies continue to exploit loopholes in Iowa’s corporate tax system to shift profits out of state and avoid paying their share of Iowa’s corporate tax, while instate business competitors cannot.
Rockwell-Collins has not paid any state corporate income tax for at least the last three years, and in fact, received state subsidy payments of as much as $13.8 million last year through the Research Activities Credit, yet it would benefit substantially from the property tax rollbacks and credits being discussed in the Legislature. At the same time, local services could suffer from the loss of revenue, at least under some proposals. Similarly, Wal-Mart and its stores throughout Iowa, which exist because they are profitable, would receive a reduction on the $12 million in property taxes they currently pay to support state and local services. Other national companies that use tax loopholes to escape Iowa income taxes would benefit as well. Nearly identical companies doing business in Iowa may have dramatically different property taxes based upon whether they are part of a TIF district, with TIFs often eroding local property taxes and playing one Iowa community off against another. That violates a primary tax principle of fairness — that taxes should be based on ability to pay, and that those of similar standing and with similar ability to pay should have similar tax responsibilities.
Is Iowa really not competitive for new commercial investment, as some claim, given the ability of cities to reduce their property taxes to almost nothing? Should corporations not paying their share of the corporate income tax benefit from further state largesse in the form of property tax cuts? TIF reform, caps on the refundability of tax credits, and measures to close the loopholes in Iowa’s corporate tax system (which could be corrected by combined reporting, as is done in the majority of states with corporate income taxes) should be undertaken before any further reduction in business taxes at a cost of cuts to local services.
Recent Legislative Proposals
In fiscal year 2009, property taxes levied amounted to $4,023 billion, with 31.2 percent, or $1.254 million, coming from commercial and industrial property. During the 2012 session, the Iowa House and Senate passed different versions of commercial and industrial property tax rollbacks — either of which could significantly affect the ability of both state and local governments to address health, education, and safety needs of Iowans (which make up 80 percent of the Iowa budget).
The House version, when fully phased in by FY2022, would have resulted in $486 million less in property tax collections and $237 million less in funding available to local governments, provided the state honored new commitments for $249 million in property tax replacement from state sources. The Senate version, when fully phased in by FY2022, would have resulted in $419 million less in property tax collections and $91 million less in funding available to local governments, provided the state honored new commitments of $328 million in property tax replacement funds from state sources. Since they did not reach agreement, neither version was enacted into law, but these issues are again before the General Assembly.
Iowa’s Business Taxes: Already Low
When one considers the whole range of state and local taxes that fall on businesses, Iowa is a low-tax state. In a report on overall taxes, including property taxes, paid by businesses, the nationally recognized accounting firm of Ernst and Young recently showed that only 15 states taxed businesses at a lower rate than Iowa as a percent of private-sector GDP.
Commercial Property Tax Break Will Spur Little or No Growth
A state or local government’s tax rate — be it corporate income or commercial property or the combination of all taxes on business — is a tiny portion of a business’ overall costs. Taken together, state and local taxes on business are, on average, only about 1.8 percent of total business costs. The commercial property tax by itself would be an even tinier fraction of a business’ overall costs. The notion that cutting commercial property taxes further by reducing assessments will bring in new economic activity and new revenue is a pipe dream.
If Iowa is to make changes in its property tax treatment of commercial and industrial property, the first thing it should do is look to finance the cost of these changes through closing existing tax loopholes and subsidies. There are many provisions within Iowa’s tax code that are designed to stimulate economic activity but also substantially erode overall tax collections, often to the benefit of very narrow business interests. Because these credits are part of the tax code, they are not subject to annual appropriation or review. Before lawmakers consider changes to commercial and industrial property taxes or to corporate or individual income taxes, they need to review and consider reforms to and eliminations of special business tax exemptions and credits.
 Ernst and Young for the Council on State Taxation. Total State and local business taxes: State-by-state estimates for fiscal year 2009. March 1, 2010. <http://www.cost/org/StateTaxLibrary.aspx?id=17768>, as cited in “Iowa’s Businesses Already are Taxed Lightly,” Iowa Fiscal Partnership, February 9, 2011. <http://www.iowafiscal.org/2011docs/110209-IFP-biztaxes-bgd.pdf>.
 Peter S. Fisher, “Corporate Taxes and State Economic Growth,” Iowa Fiscal Partnership, February 2011. <http://www.iowafiscal.org/2011docs/110209-IFP-corptaxes.pdf>.
As they do year after year, the folks over at Iowa Policy Project have put together a well researched paper concerning the state of work in Iowa at the end of each year. They have been doing this end of year report since 2001. This year as in the past, IPP puts together the facts and offer common sense solutions which are quite practical and doable.
But the powers that be in the state will probably not pay any attention to IPP’s analysis or suggestions. Instead i think we can look forward to another couple years of the House trying to push through ALEC solutions to problems that don’t exist. I also expect Governor Branstad to try to do what he can to give tax breaks to the wealthy and apply whatever brakes he can to public unions. He is after all, a founding member of ALEC, but has been surpassed in the pursuit of ALEC goals by the likes of Walker of Wisconsin and Snyder in Michigan and Scott in Florida.
I recommend that if you are truly interested in a solid research and solutions you read IPP weekly. But the end of the year report is a must for anyone who wants to get a good grasp on where Iowa is at the start of the legislature.
Among the key findings:
• Iowa’s current recovery is slower than that following other recessions; at recent slow-growth trends, it will still take about a year and a half to reach pre-recession job levels.
• Underemployment has remained up throughout recovery, illustrating a greater severity of damage from recession than typical unemployment data, which miss those discouraged enough to leave the work force, and those working part-time jobs below their skill level and desire for full-time work.
• Across the last generation, and especially across the last two business cycles, we have seen a steady loss of good jobs in Iowa. The steepest losses since 2007 have been in higher-wage sectors such as manufacturing and construction.
• Iowa’s median wage in 2011 remained below the U.S. average for both men and women, and ranked Iowa in the bottom tier among nine states in the region.
• Over a quarter of Iowa workers toil for less than $10.73/hour, the wage needed to lift a full-time worker to the poverty threshold for a family of four.
A tip of the hat to author Colin Gordon on an excellent report.
Iowa Fiscal Partnership To Governor Branstad: “Creating New Jobs Begins With A Strong Educational System”
Statement also available on Iowa Fiscal Partnership website.
Fill in blanks with TIF reform, EITC boost, preschool investments
The Iowa Fiscal Partnership issued the following statement today about Governor Branstad’s Condition of the State address:
“The test of this legislative session will be how lawmakers fill in the blanks left by the Governor’s address,” said Peter Fisher, research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project and co-director of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership.
“No discussion of property-tax reform is comprehensive unless it includes significant reform of tax-increment financing (TIF) and also recognizes the overall low tax rates in Iowa on business.
“The No. 1 need for tax reform is in helping working families, and that starts with a significant improvement in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The Governor did not mention this, and lawmakers need to assure that this happens.
“Finally, creating new jobs begins with a strong educational system. For a competitive workforce and economy, a strategic focus on educational progress means more than a nod to preschool. Investments in this area are critical to achieve the literacy goals the Governor has set.”
The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis initiative of two nonpartisan, Iowa-based organizations: the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines.
# # # # #
Last week I got this donation solicitation from the Iowa Policy Project. Normally I would not pass on requests like this, but this organization does some of the best work in refuting lies, omissions and misleading statements that have become the fabric of our discourse.
I still believe that the truth will win out and the lies of the moment must be shown to be not only false but detrimental to governing.
When we started the Iowa Policy Project, I had great dreams for a simple idea: Make public policy more user-friendly, and more facts available to Iowans, to encourage better decisions. If IPP could do that, Iowans would have a better chance to have clean air and water, more understandable and fair taxes, and a state where all have the opportunity to succeed.
Ten years later, our dream to provide that information is a reality — even if we have not seen hundreds of policy results yet.
We know Iowans want good information, because they come to us for it. Just this week, our research director, Peter Fisher, was on NPR’s “All Things Considered” to talk about corporate subsidies. (Hear it here.) It was the latest of many invitations for Peter — one of the state’s most recognized experts on tax policy and economic development. Last week he spoke at a national conference, and Iowans call upon him frequently.
Our good research covers so many topics that many Iowans find we can help them in ways they didn’t realize. They talk to us about one topic, then learn of other work we do:
• A few weeks ago, a councilman from a small Iowa town came to our office to meet with Peter about tax-increment financing (TIF). Afterward, I met with the councilman about another issue: an energy-efficiency competition we organized with his community and three others.
• A councilman in another town was so impressed with our report showing an “Apples to Apples” comparison of pay for public- and private-sector workers that he made the motion for his community to participate with us in our energy competition study.
Every public policy issue of consequence these days demands a fight. IPP makes sure those most concerned about a sustainable and just future for Iowans have facts and strong messages to make their case. That is our mission.
To provide this research we need your help. Not only do our grants from national funders require matching donations from Iowans; those grants are not enough to get the job done. And, in this economy, those grants are harder to come by. IPP needs your support.
As we are a 501(c)(3) organization, your contribution may be fully tax-deductible.
Thank you for considering us in your end-of-year giving plans.
PS — As Congress battles and the Iowa Legislature prepares to return, your help is especially important to IPP.
Shining Bright: Growing Solar Jobs in Iowa
Shining Bright: Growing Solar Jobs in Iowa
Report: Solar Investment Would Yield Jobs, More for Iowa Economy
March 8, 2011
DES MOINES, Iowa — A new report shows Iowa could create thousands of new jobs and economic benefits by developing solar power with state policies that ensure Iowa reaps solar’s full rewards.
“Iowa has a choice to make: sit on the sidelines and watch as surrounding states attract the investment and jobs solar will inevitably bring, or aggressively pursue solar energy as it did decades ago with wind and become a national leader,” according to the report.
The report included job-impact analysis by Iowa State University researcher David Swenson, who found that during the fifth year of a program to install 300 megawatts of solar power in Iowa, the equivalent of almost 5,000 jobs would be created and over $332 million in value added to Iowa’s economy.
“The job creation potential of the solar industry is surprisingly large,” said David Osterberg, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project, which produced the report in collaboration with the Iowa Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Vote Solar Initiative.
A solar industry developer, former Iowa and NFL football star Tim Dwight, said the report confirms what he has seen in the energy marketplace.
“This is the right time for Iowa to strike. Everyone is looking for a way to create jobs, and the solar industry is a good investment here in Iowa where we already rely on the sun to power crop growth,” Dwight said.
Iowa had 3,675 MW of wind power in 2010, growing from just 243 MW of capacity in 2000. Three hundred megawatts of solar, Osterberg said, would be larger than the largest wind farm in Iowa.
“It is very doable. But it will take a commitment from policymakers and interest in private industry to make it happen. Iowa would be a big winner,” Osterberg said.
“Wind power has created huge benefits for Iowa, and solar can do the same,” said Steve Falck, senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Now is the time for the Legislature to step up to the plate and turn this job-creating potential into reality.”
The report noted that solar markets are flourishing where good policy has made solar energy accessible and offered reasonable incentives to drive private investment in solar technology. “Taxpayers should demand a return with any investment, and solar offers it,” Falck said.
In his analysis, ISU’s Swenson estimated during the five years of installing 300 MW of solar the average annual impact would be:
$302 million increased industrial output, and
$99 million increased labor income.
Those numbers include sizable indirect effects — spinoff economic effects caused by the initial investment.
“Growth in the solar industry means direct jobs for more than just rooftop installers but also for electricians, builders, contractors, engineers, technicians, financiers, lawyers, marketers and salespeople,” the report stated.
Osterberg said it was important to turn to Swenson for this analysis because he is very careful about assuring reliable estimates.
“We chose 300 megawatts as a target because it is sufficiently aggressive, yet reasonably could be done if Iowa’s leaders got behind it,” he said.
Nathaniel Baer of the Iowa Environmental Council noted the finding that various incentives can support a strong solar goal. One bill this year would provide $10 million in solar incentives to encourage Iowa homeowners and businesses to install solar power.
Baer said Iowa has experience and a track record of success in developing clean, renewable sources of energy.
“There are many other options including production based incentives, tax credits and waivers, an expansion of Iowa’s first-in–the-nation renewable energy standard, and low-interest financing programs,” according to the report. “Iowa already has the essential net metering and interconnection policies in place to help facilitate customers’ access to the grid and ensure they receive fair credit for the power they produce.”
The report noted at least 25 Iowa businesses and nonprofits and 16 Iowa universities, colleges, community colleges, schools and libraries, as well as many private homes, use solar energy. It focuses on three examples: Allsteel in Muscatine, Marshalltown Public Library, and a home in Spencer.
State Capitol News – Weekend Recap
State Capitol News – Weekend Recap
by Paul Deaton[Editors'
is a weekly recap of stories from Des Moines that
came through the Weekend Editor's in-box in the third week of the
legislative session. Check out the House Democrats page for a different
take on the week here. Senate Democrats are here. Watch for this feature every Saturday while the legislature is in
session.] Governor Branstad Presented Two Year Budget to the Iowa Legislature In a speech without embellishment, Governor Branstad presented his two year budget to the Iowa Legislature on Thursday. There were no surprises or profundities and his goal is four fold: “create 200,000 jobs for Iowans, increase family income by 25%, restore Iowa's educational system to #1 in the nation and reduce the cost of government by 15%.” It is hard for anyone to argue with these goals. How the budget details will be finalized is an open question, partly reliant on HF45, which was referred to the Senate committee on Rules and Administration on January 20th. With early attention to HF45 and now the governor's speech, the cuts Republicans recommend are subject to the legislative process in the Senate. Others have written about the budget and for further analysis, BFIA recommends the Iowa Policy Project , the Iowa Fiscal Partnership and the Iowa Democratic Party's three reasons the Governor's budget will hurt Iowans.
Kent Sorenson Agitates as Promised As he said he would, Senator Kent Sorenson (R-37) agitated the Iowa Senate during a unanimous consent motion by Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-50) on procedural rules. It was an attempt to gain attention for a vote on defining marriage in the Iowa constitution. Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson covered some of the details of the Senate action. One wonders whether Sorenson is doing anything other than fulfilling a promise he made on conservative talk radio “…to force votes that he (Senator Gronstal) hasn't had to take before.” While Sorenson's theatrics are presented under the guise of insurgent populism, they are more akin to a desultory performance in the highly stylized Japanese Kabuki theatre, and a sleeper for people who understand Senator Gronstal's position that the constitutional amendment to define marriage will not advance on his watch. Check out Senator Gronstal's Friday appearance on Iowa Press, where among other things, this issue is discussed, here.
House File 95 (Voter ID) Passes House in Partisan 60-40 Vote
One wonders if the Iowa House of Representatives will do anything except manifest Republican tropisms this session. The requirement to provide “certain identification when voting in person” represents more of the same voter suppression Republicans have become increasingly known for. Read Deeth for more analysis and some humor. This session of the legislature is already becoming tedious for its predictability. Let's hope the Democrats in the Senate can hold together to kill HF 95. Factoid: It is estimated by the Legislative Services Agency that HF 95 will result in a loss of revenue to the Road Use Tax Fund of $173,000 in FY 2012 and $345,000 each year thereafter to reflect the cost of providing identification cards at no charge for the current level of customers. Of course the Republican majority has not funded this aspect of HF 95 in the bill.
Personal Lobbying in the State House
Most Blog for Iowa readers have been asked at least once to demonstrate their interests at the Iowa Capitol by now. One Iowa, veterans groups, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the American Cancer Society and many others have held lobby days and more are scheduled.
~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul Deaton
Happy New Year progressive family!
I wanted to share with you all the details of the upcoming Inaugural Ball here in the Quad Cities at the Davenport River Center on January 20th… but that will have to be the subject of my next post as I am deeply moved to share this excerpt with all of you from Stephanie Kaza's new book, “Mindfully Green: A Personal & Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking.” Great “food for thought” to live by in 2009 and beyond!
Peace and Love,
Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking
by Stephanie Kaza
Posted by: DailyOM at www.dailyom.com
With all the attention on living sustainably, the one thing missing from the conversation is how to find a personal connection with green living that will sustain us on our green path. While practical approaches to an eco-responsible lifestyle offer important first steps, it is critical that we ground these actions in broader understanding so that we can effect real change in the world.
In this book, Stephanie Kaza describes what she calls the “green practice path.” She offers a simple, Buddhist-inspired philosophy for taking up environmental action in real, practical, and effective ways. Discover new ways to think more deeply about your impact on the natural world, engage in environmental change, and make green living a personal practice based in compassion and true conviction.
Chapter One: Reducing Harm
To get our bearings on the path, it is helpful to have some compass points for orientation. The first three chapters of this book consider principles that provide an ethical foundation and a pragmatic direction for the green path. Foremost of these is the commitment to reduce harm wherever possible.We begin by looking at the nature of environmental harm and exploring choices to reduce that harm. Offering kindness becomes a core practice of non-harming, a way to be with the suffering of the natural world, hard as this may seem. To gain a wisdom perspective on harm and suffering, the third chapter takes up the deep view based on interdependence. With ethical principles and systems thinking to guide us, we can have a certain measure of confidence in setting out on the path.
The Dalai Lama often opens his speeches by saying, “Everyone wants to be happy. No one wants to be unhappy.” Stemming from this statement is much of the world’s moral and religious philosophy. Another way to put this is, “Everyone wants to be unharmed. No one wants to be harmed.” All beings, from baby grasshoppers to giant redwood trees and people the world over, would prefer to be safe, to be free from harm, injury, violence, and suffering, to be allowed to live their lives in peace. Nobody really wants to be hurt, abused, or threatened in any way.
The Christian principle of reducing harm is contained in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In 1993 the Parliament of the World’s Religions proclaimed this moral code of reciprocity or mutual respect to be the common basis for a global human ethic. For Hindus, this is expressed as the practice of ahimsa, or non-harming—that is, taking up the path of not causing harm. In Buddhism, monks and laypeople take vows to “save all sentient beings from suffering.” Reducing harm through mutual respect is a central ethical principle in all religious and ethical traditions because it is fundamental to keeping human societies functional and not self-destructive. It is difficult for people and their support systems to thrive if everyone is hurting each other all the time.
This same logic can be extended to human relations with ecological systems. It is difficult for ecosystems to thrive and for people to thrive in them if plants and animals, groundwater, streams, mountains, oceans, and air are constantly under assault. Damaged support systems don’t work as effectively as healthy systems. They are less resilient, less capable, and less functional overall. Human beings trying to live in damaged or ailing ecosystems don’t do well either. They pick up waterborne disease from polluted streams. They struggle with asthma from poor air quality. They are vulnerable to extreme weather events from climate change.
So what does it mean to reduce harm? How can such a principle work when applied in a practical situation? How would one use such a guideline to be a good ecological citizen? As you would imagine, most environmental questions do not have simple answers. We don’t always know when harm is being done, and even when we can see there is harm, we don’t always know what the cause is. And further, there may be many reasons why it is difficult to reduce the harm that is happening. Choosing the ethical path of reducing harm turns out to be a complex and demanding practice. But that should not discourage us. Many wisdom traditions have prepared the way for this practice, and we can work with well-proven methods to help us along the path.
Degrees of Harm
In any given situation, people try to work out a way to get what they need without causing too many repercussions. We are constantly evaluating trade-offs and potential risks to minimize harm to ourselves as well as others with whom we have ongoing relations.We learn to do this in our family settings as we cope with household stress while keeping our safety intact. We maintain polite protocols to be good neighbors even if we disagree on politics. This balancing act reflects our evolutionary development as social animals; there are many good sociobiological reasons for being well-practiced at evaluating the potential for harm. Those who do this well assure both their own well-being and the well-being of their kin. Since this process of discrimination is already well developed, we can use it to help us on the green practice path. In order to reduce environmental harm, we must be able to identify it and then evaluate our own contribution to that harm.
Everyone has to eat, so this is a good place to practice looking for environmental harm and checking our participation in that harm. By “practice,” I mean engaging the questions around harming for a period of time and asking them over and over in different contexts. It is a form of discipline, remembering that this is what you are trying to do, bringing your attention back to the questions with a fresh mind again and again. Practicing with food presents an opportunity for mindfulness because so much of our time is spent in obtaining, preparing, and consuming food. When we stop to consider how much harm is involved in growing or making our food, we can make more informed choices about what we eat and what degrees of harm we will embrace.
Let’s explore several ways of evaluating degrees of harm in food. Looking at the broad picture, we can measure the various environmental impacts generated by the growing and processing the major food groups. Fortunately for us, the Union of Concerned Scientists has already done this research, laying down reliable benchmarks based on scientific analysis. These are outlined in their book The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices.
The authors considered 120 types of environmental impacts and then consolidated this list to six primary concerns: air and water pollution, land use, solid and hazardous waste, and climate change. They then examined U.S. national data for producing all of our food sources—fruits, vegetables, grains, meat. They were able to show which impacts were associated with each type of food production. Their study indicates that meat production is the leading cause of agricultural water pollution. This is because cows and hogs are fattened for slaughter in large feedlots and their manure runs off into the groundwater, polluting nearby streams and lakes. Production of grains and vegetables takes its toll on soil health and habitat biodiversity. So we can use factual data to measure the types and degrees of harming—in the arena of food production and other areas as well.
Another way to evaluate harm is to examine the impacts on individual plants and animals that we choose to consume. Many people are concerned about the treatment of animals in the industrial food system, which causes distress and suffering for the animals. Classic philosophical arguments for vegetarianism point out that animals have awareness and intelligence, that they experience physical and emotional suffering as we do.The infliction of cruelty and suffering—such as clipping hogs’ tails, cutting chicks’ beaks, or branding the hides of cattle—are standard operations in domestic meat production.
Animals experience further anxiety and stress from being crowded in small cages or packed into trucks for long-distance transport. Calves and piglets are often traumatically separated from their mothers before weaning. If you eat meat, you can evaluate which of these types of harming is acceptable to you. If you want to reduce harm to the soil and groundwater as well as to individual animals, you can reduce the amount of meat you eat. The Union of Concerned Scientists strongly recommends cutting back on meat consumption to directly reduce both animal suffering and environmental degradation.
Evaluating harm to plants is more difficult because we don’t understand how plants experience harm. We know that poor soil, lack of water, and over harvesting can leave plants weak and nutrient deficient. But do plants suffer in the same way if their evolutionary integrity is altered through genetic engineering? Does mono-cropping harm plants or soils or both? With the rise of the organic farming movement, green consumers looking to reduce harm choose organic over conventional produce options. They reason that organic plants have been better nourished by the soil and perhaps also more lovingly cared for by the farmer, at least in small-scale operations. Workers on industrial-scale organic farms, however, may not hold such intimate relations with their crops.
Another way to evaluate degree of harm is in terms of the eater, rather than the eaten. Meat-intensive diets have been correlated with high rates of human heart disease and cancers of the digestive tract. Some vegetarians have turned away from meat to protect their health and avoid meat-associated medical risks. Studies now show that hormones used in beef production can affect human reproductive development, causing early puberty and male infertility. The heavy use of antibiotics in conventional meat and dairy operations is a human health concern as well, undercutting the effectiveness of these valuable drugs in treating human infection. Reducing harm to ourselves is a viable and important aspect of reducing environmental impact, reflecting the recognition that we too are part of the environment that is under siege.
We can also consider degrees of harm relative to spiritual well-being. In many world and indigenous religious traditions, abstaining from meat is a common practice in cultural ceremonies or as training in self-discipline. Practicing restraint requires constant vigilance and the tempering of deeply conditioned appetites. Buddhists and Hindus emphasize the merit gained from cumulative acts of compassion in relation to animals. They further believe that a meat-free diet generates a calmer mind, more disposed toward equanimity and patience and therefore less likely to harm others.
In the last few years a new criterion has arisen for evaluating harm: the distance a food has traveled from production to market. The harm, in this case, is to our climate, since long shipping distances contribute significantly to the carbon emissions impact of food products. Farmers’ markets across the nation have been promoting “locavore” campaigns, challenging people to eat 10 or 20 percent of their diet from local foods only. Authors Barbara Kingsolver and Gary Nabhan have taken on the experiment of eating 100 percent locally in their Midwest and desert regions, inspiring others with their stories. In this measure, degree of harm reflects the number of food miles associated with a specific food. We can choose to reduce our diet-related greenhouse gas emissions by eating locally and cutting down on food miles.
Deadline to File for Stimulus Payment Oct. 15; Thousands of Iowans Missing Out
The Iowa Policy Project
More than 37,000 Iowans may be missing out on economic stimulus payments because they have not filed requests for them.
“In Iowa, this is more than $11 million that could be helping local economies around the state, because the recipients would spend the money,” said David Osterberg, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.
The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP) notes that the Internal Revenue Service has identified about 4.3 million low-income seniors, disabled veterans and others with disabilities who might be missing payments.
“These are people who are not otherwise required to file a tax return, so they might miss out on their payments,” Osterberg said. “Three hundred or $600 is a big boost to these folks.”
Those who are eligible must file by October 15 for their payment.
Go here for more information.
Mixed Job Signals After Iowa Floods
By the Iowa Policy Project
Jobless Rate Bounces Up to 4.3 Percent in July — 35-Month High
Nonfarm jobs rose slightly in July in the wake of massive flooding that hit Iowa in June, but the state’s unemployment rate jumped to 4.3 percent, its highest mark in nearly three years.
A 400-job boost in Iowa payrolls eased the nonfarm job picture, as did a revision that reduced the previously reported decline for June. Still, the survey of Iowa’s payrolls shows a net decline of 200 jobs over the last six months.
“It’s true, as state officials are saying, that we have not seen what they call ‘substantial job erosion,’ but we are nevertheless seeing erosion in Iowa’s job fortunes,” said David Osterberg, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project, which tracks Iowa job trends. “These numbers today actually are a little better than what the state reported last month, but it’s hard to get around the fact that they’re not good – as the unemployment rate shows.”
The unemployment rate rose in July to a 35-month high of 4.3 percent from 4.0 percent in June. The rate, based on a separate household survey, estimated 72,500 Iowans were unemployed, up from 66,900 in June.
“That’s a big jump for one month,” Osterberg said. “It makes sense that — as the state suggests — business disruptions due to flooding are partly to blame for that increase, so we don’t know how lasting an impact we will see.
“It is notable that the last time the jobless rate was at 4.3 percent, in August 2005, the rate was steadily coming down in Iowa. What we’ve been seeing in Iowa in recent months is a steady rise in the unemployment rate, which was 3.4 percent as recently as March.”
The jobless rate stood at 3.8 percent in July 2007. Iowa nonfarm jobs in July stood at 1,524,200 — only 6,800 ahead of July 2007 — or an average monthly gain of about 600 over the past 12 months.
“Jobs actually declined in five of those 12 months, so we are looking for some stability that may be difficult to find in these months following the floods,” Osterberg said. The payroll survey of employers showed July increases of 600 in two categories: trade, transportation and utilities, and education and health services. Along with smaller gains in financial activities (300) and government jobs (200), they offset job drops in professional and business services (400), construction (300), manufacturing (200), information (200), leisure and hospitality (100), and other services (100).
The Iowa Policy Project (IPP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and policy analysis organization based in Mount Vernon, with its principal office in Iowa City. IPP reports on job trends and other public policy issues facing Iowa are at <http://www.iowapolicyproject.org>.