Thursday Reads

Ever ask a state lawmaker about long-delayed property tax reform? Most times they’ll say they’re anxiously awaiting the recommendations of a task force studying the issue. The wait is over. Now the reform can begin.

Sorry, I just laugh-spit coffee onto my keyboard.

After two years of hearings, a special legislative task force has made its recommendations. It wants to give local governments expanded powers to raise revenues. It wants 75 percent of those new revenues to be used to reduce commercial property taxes. And it wants the rest to go for “essential services,” especially stuff connected to disaster recovery.

For all the meeting and waiting, the report drew little fanfare. Here is the AP story most papers ran this morning. Rod Boshart of the Gazette also covered the report, but his story is not available online, so you’ll have to find a copy.

Luckily, I’m a subscriber, so I can tell you The Gazette says the list of new city revenue sources may include real estate and development impact fees, expanded hotel/motel taxes and local option booze and cigarette taxes. Cities could also get “flexible bonding authority.”

So will the report lead to action or join a long line of previous studies on a big high shelf? I say shelf, but that’s just because I’m hopelessly cynical.

The Des Moines Register warns drivers that a gas tax hike may be coming because highway lobby groups say they plan to demand at least a nickel increase for road projects. Gasp. But what the story fails to mention is that these same groups have been pushing for years for a tax increase without success. You can’t let history get in the way of a good warning, however.

On the subject of history, if you thought meth labs had gone the way of the rotary dial telephone, think again. Radio Iowa reports that the state’s drug czar is warning of a possible increase in labs this year. And he wants lawmakers to do more to crack down on the sale of meth ingredients.

And finally, will it be agriculture or commerce for former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack?

 The New York Daily news started speculation swirling that President-elect Obama might pull a cabinet switch and shift Vilsack to commerce secretary after the abrupt departure of Bill Richardson. But KCCI TV in Des Moines reports thast Vilsack aides say no swap is in the offing.

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