by John Kenyon

IOWA – When the Legislature convenes on Jan. 10, it does so with a new party in charge in the House and a new governor in Terrace Hill.
Republicans made great strides during the November election, and Gov.-elect Terry Branstad, also a Republican, will take office in January as well.

Business organizations traditionally assemble legislative agendas that are presented late one year in the hope of influencing the policy decisions in the next. This year is no different. Two major business organizations have issued detailed agendas that members hope will lead legislators to make decisions in their favor.

The Iowa Chamber Alliance’s legislative agenda for 2011 seeks policies that will “create an environment conducive to business success, leading to job expansion and increased state and local revenues.”

To do so, the organization, a non-partisan coalition that represents 16 chambers of commerce and economic development organizations throughout the state, including the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City chambers, has identified four large areas within which it has several goals for the 2011 Legislature.

Those areas are to promote Iowa’s economic growth, attract and retain a highly skilled and educated workforce, rebuild and improve Iowa’s infrastructure, and sustain and revitalize Iowa communities.

The first goal, to promote economic growth, is the most detailed. The organization, echoing the plans of Gov.-elect Terry Branstad, is pushing for a public-private partnership to foster economic development.

Doing so could aid “developing a business model focused on seizing opportunities and implementing programs that provide a greater return on investment,” the group says.

It also promotes the idea of an “innovative and transformative government,” citing ideas in a report by the IBM Center for the Business of Government titled “Four Strategies to Transform State Governance.” They include anticipatory, results-focused, collaborative and transparent governance.

Under this goal, it also addresses the issues of business climate, income tax and a desire to restore venture capital tax credits. In addition, the perennial issue of property tax relief is addressed.

“In the latest ‘50-State Property Tax Comparison Study,’ Iowa’s urban commercial property tax rates have remained the same from the previous year at second highest,” the group states. “However, Iowa’s rural commercial property tax rates have moved up from seventh in 2008 to second highest in 2009.”

The alliance suggests establishing a commission to redesign Iowa’s property tax system. “The commission would submit its plan to the Legislature and governor, who could either accept or reject the plan but not modify it. Inaction by the legislature would make the plan law.”

The second goal of attracting and retaining a highly skilled and educated workforce includes ideas to establish “state-level 21st century learning standards that meet or exceed federal standards as well as assessments focused on student achievement,” align Iowa curriculum with career pathway maps and improving and enhancing existing technology.

It also promotes increasing the use of charter schools and science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning.

The goal of rebuilding and improving infrastructure advocates fully funding the TIME-21 plan (Transportation Investment Moves the Economy in the 21st century).

“With eight percent of Iowa’s roads carrying 61 percent of the traffic, and with the rate of revenue to the Road Use Tax Fund decreasing, continuous investment in Iowa’s public roadway system is essential to support economic growth,” the group says.

It also seeks a revision of the Road Use Tax Fund formula to “expedite completion of high-priority projects.” Now, the group says, the formula allocates the most funding to the least-traveled roads.

The group also advocates continuing the expansion of rail infrastructure. The Alliance supports continued efforts to implement the Iowa Department of Transportation Rail Service plan for passenger rail and continued investment in its Rail Revolving Loan and Grant Fund. It does not specifically address the federal funding for high-speed rail service between Chicago and Iowa City. Mr. Branstad has said he has yet to decide if he will accept that money.

The goal of sustaining and revitalizing communities focuses both on state funding programs for communities and for more general sustainability issues.

In terms of grants, the alliance advocates continuing the Community Attraction and Tourism program, including removing funding caps; and funding the Great Places program.

On the issue of sustainability and green development, the alliance advocates funding them Iowa Brownfield Redevelopment Program at $3 million per year and raising the cap on the tax credit program.

It also seeks creation of “infrastructure and incentives for locating and growing companies that are involved in the production of and utilize various types of renewable energy.”

ABI agenda
Another organization, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, also has released a legislative agenda for the coming session.

The group reports that it is “strategically focused on job creation, fiscal responsibility, tax policy and regulatory reform.”

The group recommends:
— Refocusing the Iowa Department of Economic Development on an economic strategy balancing retention and assistance to existing businesses with the recruitment of new businesses.
— Employing standards and criteria necessary to produce affordable, accountable and sustainable budgets that Iowa taxpayers can rely on year after year.      
— Reducing the overall tax burden for Iowans while achieving better quality governmental services for less cost.
— Review regulations on Iowa’s business climate for their effectiveness and enact future standards only after careful review by elected policymakers.