Capitol Update for March 15th, 2012

Recap of Week 10

Monday was Lutheran Day on the Hill and I met with staff from Lutheran Services of Iowa in Anamosa. They were visiting the Capitol to discuss the Health and Human Services budget.

This Saturday, March 17th, there will be a forum in Manchester at the Coffee Den at 8:30 am. Representative Steve Lukan will be joining me. Please come and share any thoughts or questions you may have.

Field of Dreams Bill Continues to Receive Consideration

A bill that would aid in the creation of ‘All Star Ballpark Heaven,’ a baseball and softball tournament facility at the site of the Field of Dreams filming location in Dyersville, continues to move through the legislative process this week with a Ways and Means subcommittee. HF 2419 would allow for the creation of a sales tax TIF for the facility site. The sales tax revenue generated at the site would be rebated to the developers of the facility, whereas that money is usually added to the state’s general fund. The bill provides for a limit to this sales tax rebate at, either, $16.5 million, or for a period of ten years, whichever occurs first. The pennies included in sales tax to go to schools and a local option, will continue to be collected and diverted as usual, and will not go to the developers or count toward the cap total.

Developers of the Field of Dreams plan propose to create a baseball and softball tournament complex that would consist of 24 fields, a year-round sports dome, on-site housing, banquet/retreat facilities, and improvements to the movie site. The location would play host to weekly premier baseball and softball tournaments and camps during the appropriate seasons. The proposed site has as initial construction cost estimate of $38 million, and would add jobs for the area via the initial construction of the project, ongoing employees at the site, and through increased need for services in the surrounding area from all of the athletes and their families needing food and a place to stay. The developer’s project that the site will create 956 jobs as a result.

The legislation is modeled off a similar deal that the developers of the Newton Speedway received when it was being conceptualized in 2005. That legislation used the same framework: a sales tax rebate on goods sold at the Raceway. Similarly, this was limited to $12 million, or a period of ten years. The Speedway says it has not reached its monetary cap and is approaching the ten year limitation. The initial budget for the Speedway construction was $40 million, and thus, the sales tax rebate cap represented 30% of the initial project estimate cost. For the Field of Dreams proposal, the percentage is a little higher, with the $16.5 million cap representing 43% of the initial budget for construction.

Proponents also say that this model is a fiscally sound way of engaging in economic development from the state perspective, as the state does not put any money into the project up front. Instead, the project gets to ‘keep’ money that it is able to generate; money that would not have been generated if the project would not have existed. If the project fails, the state would not be out any investment as it never put any money into it in the first place.

The idea hasn’t been one that has been met with complete agreement and positivity, as many local farmers and residents in Dyersville are skeptical of the project. The local component to the project is of vital importance, as hurdles remain at that level before the project could move forward. Sewage and water would need to be extended to the site in order to could handle the projected increase of individuals attending the site. This may involve the voluntary annexation of land to make way for these improvements. Others worry about the loss of a way of life some have come to expect. This is both true of the actual Field of Dreams site, and the way the town is run and inhabited at this point. Some worry that the proposed tournament facility will lead to the over-commercialization of the site, and thus would lose the quaint attraction it currently possesses. Others worry about the increased volume of individuals that would be descending on the town of 4,000 people.

The plan consists of a number of moving parts including the local and state components. As for the state component: the House bill originally passed the Economic Growth committee on a vote of 12-9, and is currently in the Ways and Means committee, awaiting discussion. There is also a companion bill in the Senate, which passed its initial committee on a vote of 13-2.

House Approves Education Reform

The House considered and passed House File 2380, the Education Reform bill, on Wednesday after a long legislative day that ended up spanning two calendar days.  The bill received nearly twelve hours of debate on 56 amendments and the bill and passed on a partisan vote of 53 to 46.

But beneath that partisan vote was very much a bipartisan effort.  Democrat members rose to speak about a number of portions of the bill they supported.  There were 8 amendments accepted that were brought forward by the minority party.  And the entire process saw much collaboration between the two sides of the aisle.

The final bill came before the full House after 5 subcommittees that spent over a dozen hours considering the bill, committee discussion that spanned 3 days and a public hearing before the legislature.  Much of the language that was of concern was removed, tweaked to make it better.  The concentration of power in the Department of Education, in the original bill, was lessened, and local control was evident throughout the final version.  In the end, House Republicans passed a bill that will move the state forward in education.

The bill recognizes that one-size-fits-all education isn’t necessarily true, by expanding online learning opportunities, implementing a path to competency-based education and strengthening charter schools; it helps put great teachers in front of all classrooms; it frees principals to lead by providing a path for delegating non-instructional duties to assistants; it develops stronger assessments to help determine where kids are and how they have grown; it strengthens early literacy initiatives by providing resources to get children reading by the end of third grade; it puts in place efforts and opportunities to increase innovation that can provide results; and it establishes several means to continue discussions on how to make our education system the best it can be for the future of Iowa’s children.

The bill will travel to the Senate now for consideration.  The Senate has been working on their own version of the Governor’s education reform proposal that is sitting before the body for consideration at any time.  House Republicans look forward to carrying the bipartisan effort of education reform that took place in the House across to the other chamber to put a bill on the Governor’s desk for signature this year.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Lee Hein

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