Bird flu outbreak is a disaster

Bird flu outbreak is a disaster

Gazette Column
More than 10 million Iowa birds, mostly commercial layer hens, have been or soon will be culled in an effort to combat the spread of H5N2, an avian flu virus. And, as I was writing this, an additional 5.6 million layer hens and a yet unknown number of commercial turkeys were tagged by the Iowa Department of Agriculture as probably infected with the bird flu virus. Given Iowa’s role in egg production — one out of every five eggs consumed in the U.S. comes from Iowa — and the wide swathes of the state economy dependent on agriculture, the situation is clearly cause for the state to issue a disaster declaration. Yet. Gov. Terry Branstad has declined. (Update May 1, 3:15 p.m. — With the number of confirmed and probable…
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Has UKIP arrived in Iowa?

Has UKIP arrived in Iowa?

Gazette Column
A significant (and I believe growing) number of Iowans no longer fit neatly into the two historic political categories that have dominated American politics, and they are owning it. While there have always been political outliers — those who align with the majority of one platform or the other, but are holdouts on specific topics — the current shift is different because people are self-identifying differently. At political events in 2008 and 2012 it was not uncommon to meet Iowans who described themselves as a specific brand of party supporter. For instance, “pro-choice Republican” or “pro-gun Democrat.” Even while differentiating themselves from a larger political perception, Iowans continued to claim a party brand. Recently, however, some of those who previously identified “centrist Democrat” or “moderate Republican” have dropped the party…
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There is no solitary path to economic diversity

There is no solitary path to economic diversity

Gazette Column
USDA opinion on ICCSD policy offers new opportunities With or without the blessing of federal assistance programs, the existing strategy for economic diversity in the Iowa City Community School District was going to fail. Research — specifically a 2010 Century Foundation study of student placement in Montgomery County, Md. — provides evidence that a balanced socioeconomic playing field at neighborhood schools increases student achievement in ways targeted resources do not. In the Montgomery County study, researchers followed 850 students living in public housing. Those who attended the most-advantaged schools performed significantly better than their peers in lesser-advantaged environments. This remained true even as additional resources were pumped into the lesser-advantaged schools like increased professional development, additional math and literacy instruction and reduced class sizes. Montgomery County schools boast a 90 percent graduation…
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Property tax breaks on the backs of ballplayers?

Property tax breaks on the backs of ballplayers?

Gazette Column
The squeeze is on, and it might be a home run. Or not. The petition placed online by Iowa City Girls Softball sounds the alarm. “The property tax reform passed by the state legislation in 2013 could cost Iowa City $37 million to $52 million in lost property tax revenue over the next decade,” the petition reads. “The City Council has charged our Parks & Recreation Department to come up with a cost recovery effort that will supplement this lost revenue. Currently, the Parks and Recreation Department is seeking approximately $25,000 a year from Iowa City Girls Softball. We need your support to tell the City Council and the Director of Parks & Recreation not to charge ICGS for our use of Napoleon Park. ICGS cannot operate a sustainable organization and be a revenue…
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Time for a clearer message

Time for a clearer message

Gazette Column
Voters like to pride themselves on sending messages through the ballot box and, most of the time, such messages are easily received and understood. Just ask Todd Akin or Anthony Weiner. But when voters send murky or mixed messages, prevailing voters have the added responsibility of clearly articulating their wishes. This needs to happen in Johnson County. In the fall of 2012, the spring of 2013 and now, again, in the most recent general election, a majority of Johnson County voters have told officials to go ahead with plans related to the historic courthouse. Officials have twice had a majority say a new jail and courthouse addition should be constructed. On Tuesday, an even larger majority gave their blessing to a sole courthouse annex. The path forward should be clear,…
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Think LOST stinks? Hold your nose, blame lawmakers.

Think LOST stinks? Hold your nose, blame lawmakers.

Gazette Column
No one wants to pay more taxes, but sometimes it really is the best of the bad options. When Johnson County voters flip their ballots this November, they’ll be asked if they are willing to increase sales tax by a penny for each dollar spent. If your gut instinct is similar to mine, the pencil will immediately gravitate toward the “no” oval. Sales taxes are among the most regressive rate options for revenue generation. Because they are levied at a flat rate, and because spending as a share of income falls as income rises, sales taxes inevitably take a larger share of income from low- and middle-income families than they take from those in higher income brackets. In other words, all saved income is exempt, while all spent income is…
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Too many questions on MRAP

Too many questions on MRAP

Gazette Column
Back during my college years, when there seemed to be unlimited time to sit with friends and discuss hopes and dreams, I once expressed my desire to go on a game show and win a new car. “It would be cool,” I dreamily pronounced, envisioning hugging Bob Barker in multicolored confetti rain, and never again searching for rides home. One of our friends — an economics type not adept in dreaming — snorted and began a now legendary rift on hidden costs of “free” things. It was the first time I understood the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” It was also the night I made a promise I’d never purposefully be that economics friend, always pointing out the down side. I’d be positive and find solutions. That night,…
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It’s not just the money, honey

It’s not just the money, honey

Gazette Column
Food and living expenses have new meaning for three Eastern Iowa state senators who recently accepted a national challenge to Live the Wage for one week. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids, Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City and Tom Courtney of Burlington agreed to try and live with only $77 of spending money. The national challenge is the product of a coalition of advocates who hope to draw attention to the issue of the federal minimum wage. A person working 40 hours per week at minimum wage has gross earnings of $290 per week. The $77 is what the advocates estimate remains after taxes ($35.06) and housing expenses ($176.48) are deducted. Facebook posts have documented the challenge for the trio, and their commentary has been what one might expect from three…
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Addressing the GOP gender gap

Addressing the GOP gender gap

Gazette Column
Labeling the GOP as the party of “old white men” reached new fervor in the wake of a report commissioned by two major Republican groups, which detailed the currently insurmountable gender gap faced by the party. The report, leaked by Politico, was the result of conversations with women across the country in the form of focus groups and polling. The bottom line? Overall, 49 percent of women view Republicans unfavorably. The contents of the report aren’t necessarily shocking. Republican strategists have known for years that women and ethnic minorities are trending away. The report sums this up, according to Politico, as Republicans “fail[ing] to speak to women in the different circumstances in which they live.” That’s a nice way of saying most women believe the GOP lacks understanding and is out…
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Stage set for Fort Madison battlefield

Stage set for Fort Madison battlefield

Gazette Column
Although leaders in Fort Madison have not reversed an earlier decision to split a historic parcel of land and allow retail development on one section, they have entered into an agreement aimed at historic preservation and management of the remainder of the property. While many, myself included, remain disappointed and disheartened by the prospect of a Dollar General store on a part of this significant and irreplaceable War of 1812 battlefield, the most recent action by the Fort Madison City Council nonetheless deserves praise as movement in a good direction. The city will expend a portion of the $51,000 grant money received from the National Parks Service American Battlefield Protection Program to partner with The Walker Collaborative, based in Nashville, Tenn. The organization was the only company of the nine approached by the…
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