Cedar Rapids Public Transit’s mental toll

Cedar Rapids Public Transit’s mental toll

Gazette Column
Heard of the cognitive tax? This week, thanks to Cedar Rapids Public Transit, I’m feeling it. Cognitive tax is a term used to describe the mental state of those living in poverty or other stressful situations, also known as a scarcity mind-set. The more uncertainty in your life, the more mental work you need to expend, which takes a toll on the quality and number of tasks that can be completed. I think of it in terms of bandwidth, and how computers and smartphones bog down when they are trying to do too much with too little. When people have stable jobs, stable homes and generally predicable lives, routines go somewhat smoothly. We know where to go when we get hungry, know where we sit for work. Those are things…
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Time to rethink Cedar Rapids public golf

Time to rethink Cedar Rapids public golf

Gazette Column
It should come down the basic economic principle of supply and demand. People are simply no longer playing golf at the rate they once were. That’s true in Cedar Rapids as it is throughout the country. Municipal courses — many the result of residential developer deals during the 1990s that gifted courses to municipalities — have relied more and more heavily on taxpayer subsidies. Supply has outpaced demand, resulting in deficits. That’s a problem when a community has a single public golf course. It’s a disaster when a community operates four — more than any other community in Iowa — that compete against a dozen privately run courses and country clubs. Des Moines has three municipal courses, as does Waterloo and Davenport. In some cities, like Des Moines, local officials…
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Prepare for more food deserts

Prepare for more food deserts

Gazette Column
Accessing fresh produce and other healthy and affordable food will become increasingly more difficult over the next decade. Nearly two-thirds of rural grocery store owners in Minnesota expect to step away from their business within 10 years, according to a recent Minnesota Extension survey. Many owners are aging out of the workforce and preparing for retirement. Only a fraction have adopted transition plans that would keep the grocery open and prevent possible food deserts. The survey also found the majority of rural grocery stores are housed in older buildings, requiring significant upkeep — 43 percent of owners reported their facility was at least 50 years old, others (44 percent) were between 16 and 50 years old. “With aging buildings and thin profit margins, I’m concerned we will see a continuation…
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Time to end the Iowa K-12 funding shell game

Time to end the Iowa K-12 funding shell game

Gazette Column
Iowans received a mixed message this month when state officials finally found middle ground on state K-12 education funding. To put the lesson in context, we have to look back at last year’s K-12 spending debacle and Gov. Terry Branstad’s veto of a portion of the legislature’s 2015 compromise deal. The veto came just before the July 4 holiday, announced via email from the governor’s office. The legislative deal — a 1.25 percent increase with an additional $55 million in one-time funding — had been forged during a hard, six-month slog. Branstad took exception to the one-time spending and chose to use his line-item veto authority to remove it from the budget. “Maintaining the fiscal health of Iowa over the long term is my top budgeting priority,” Branstad said then,…
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2016 Iowa caucus is no rural friend

2016 Iowa caucus is no rural friend

Gazette Column
Thank goodness it’s nearly time to pitch the hay bales back in the barn. Presidential candidates — declared and exploring — have been milling about Iowa for more than a year. They’ve tucked celebrities and national figures into their suitcases, unpacking them alongside talking points in cities and towns from Rock Rapids to Keosauqua. They’ve posed on our farms, sat at our kitchen tables and strolled the midway at the fair. But, with the exception of ethanol, few bothered to discuss agriculture, much less ongoing and worsening challenges in rural communities. To be fair, school transportation budgets, child poverty, broadband access, land values, post office closures, food safety, water quality, workforce challenges and the like aren’t sexy topics. They are nuanced and difficult. Threats of carpet-bombing or promises of wall…
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Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Gazette Column
From a political standpoint Bob Vander Plaats and I are near polar opposites, but that isn’t why I hope he drops off the radar of the national press. Another caucus season, more national positioning of Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, as some ill-conceived GOP kingmaker in Iowa. How soon they forget. Vander Plaats has been three times rejected by Iowa gubernatorial election voters — twice during GOP primaries. His largest claim to fame is taking millions in out-of-state money to campaign for the ouster of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who found a state ban on same-sex marriage violated equal protection clauses. The bus tours and demonstrations were so far removed from reality that many religious conservatives celebrated not the removal of the justices, but a wrong assumption…
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Branstad, GOP hopefuls differ on local control

Branstad, GOP hopefuls differ on local control

Gazette Column
Education shortfalls are a manufactured crisis Spend a little time with the 2016 GOP presidential candidates and you’ll hear their plans to loosen government’s reins and provide local leaders more flexibility. If such goals are successful, however, its doubtful Iowans existing under the Branstad administration will experience relief. Debates about local control are as regular as general elections, and equally effective. But that hasn’t stopped all levels of politicians from sounding an alarm. For instance, in March 1953, then-U.S. House Majority Leader Charlie Halleck, an Indiana Republican who died in 1986, spoke before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on the risk of expansion beyond “the smallest unit of government capable of handling the job.” “With every transfer of responsibility from Des Moines or Indianapolis to Washington, there is…
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Binders full of … hypocrisy

Binders full of … hypocrisy

Gazette Column
Pardon the dust, but it’s time we brush off one of the Republican Party’s binders full of women. And, no, I’m not talking about Mitt Romney’s fictional debate binders, but the very real autopsy report commissioned by the Republican National Committee in the wake of the 2012 election. Romney garnered support from male voters, but experienced an 11-point deficit among female voters. And, when single women were singled out, the gap became a cavern of 36 percentage points. The report concluded women are not a “coalition,” and appealing to them should be integrated into all activities. GOP talkers “need to use language that addresses concerns that are on women’s minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them.” Among the findings was that women voters are interested…
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The big issue with the other Branstad veto

The big issue with the other Branstad veto

Gazette Column
Perhaps Gov. Terry Branstad doesn’t have a clear understanding of what a cliff effect is or how it hampers economic advancement. Amid the flurry of veto activity before the holiday weekend and subsequent reactions, it’s likely the governor’s refusal to grant a 5 percent increase to the federal poverty level standards associated with child care assistance wasn’t on your radar. After all, what’s more important: limiting the ability of about 200 Iowa households to increase wages or shortchanging thousands of K-12 districts? In reality, they both are clear examples of how this administration’s policies hurt the working class it espouses to protect. Campaigning in 2010, Branstad expressed concern over what’s known as the “ cliff effect ” in child care benefits. This cliff effect occurs when a working parent is offered…
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Johnson County Community ID begins next week

Johnson County Community ID begins next week

Gazette Column
Rollout of the long anticipated Johnson County Community ID begins Friday, another Midwestern first courtesy of the People’s Republic. The cards, primarily offered for people who have difficulty accessing state-issued identification, have been used in some metropolitan areas for years. Johnson County will be the first in Iowa or the Midwest to give community IDs a try. Advocates — and I count myself among them — believe the cards offer an extra measure of dignity and security. All residents, even those with a state-issued ID card or driver’s license, can get a Johnson County Community ID. The cards can be used at participating businesses for discounts or other promotions. That said, they are most useful to members of the community who could be marginalized for one reason or another —…
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