Priority legislation

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

The first rule of medicine or reasonable politics is: first, do no harm. The Iowa Legislature should follow this dictum when it reconvenes to extend the life of the school local option sales tax that is used for infrastructure. The tax has been a relief to rural districts with tight finances, and to growing districts like Storm Lake’s. It is a relief to property owners who have enjoyed a stable bill, at least from Storm Lake, over the past several years. School boards face enough heat over spending, and legislators can rest assured that they are not burning money while nobody is watching. To the contrary, most voters are more concerned about the legislature’s disastrous fiscal stewardship. They should let school boards decide how best to spend money.

Extending the sunset of the school sales tax must be extended beyond 2029. The Storm Lake School District’s entire capital plan is predicated on its extension, as it needs to expand early childhood facilities quickly to accommodate growing enrollment.

We see no natural constituency arguing against it, except for the people who generally hate government or any sort of tax. Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, is a fiscal hawk if ever there were one and he sees the need for the school tax. That makes us optimistic that the legislature can accomplish something good as it heads into an election session.

It is the most important legislative issue to the Storm Lake community. If we cannot expand our school facilities, we halt The City Beautiful’s growth. This is not about building for its own sake: East School and Gingerbread House simply cannot handle what is thrown at them, and neither can the elementary school and middle school. Growth has costs.

Former Gov. Terry Branstad suggested skimming funds from the sales tax for ag water quality spending. The legislature flicked off that idea, fortunately. But it wasn’t quite ready last session to extend the tax until it has to. Which is this January. If the GOP shuts off the lights to rural school districts, there could be costs in the midterm elections.

We trust that our legislative delegation will make Storm Lake’s priority their priority. Extend or repeal the sunset on the school sales tax. It has been a success for Storm Lake and for rural Iowa. It helps revitalize rural places with funds spent in urban areas. We would be voting against our own rural interests if we vote against the school sales tax.

Find another site

Good that an Iowa Falls pork integrator is willing to consider other locations than a proposed site in Lincoln Township, right next to Rembrandt Foods’ main egg-laying complex. The neighbors don’t like it, and we would think that the landowner, Glen Taylor, wouldn’t like it that all those hogs are sitting next to all those hens. The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors doesn’t like it, and voted unanimously against it — that’s saying something, when the board votes against livestock. But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources must approve the siting because it meets all the requirements under Iowa’s state laws that accommodate livestock everywhere.

The biggest threat facing poultry here — turkeys and chickens — is flu. Pork and poultry are notorious carriers of respiratory illness especially in confined quarters. All that manure spread on land next to the layers is teeming with virus and bacteria. The fans blowing out the hoghouse will disseminate viruses to the fans sucking air into the henhouse. Five million chickens were lost to the last flu. What price moving a hoghouse to avoid that sort of devastation?

Which all speaks to the lack of zoning and livestock.

You can put a confinement building darn near anywhere you want in Iowa — next to a Trappist monastery, just uphill from Pickerel Lake, just south of your lakefront home so you can enjoy the evening stench. The law was written by Farm Bureau and shooed through the legislature without a care for avian or swine flu. Or human health and sanitation. Or what the neighbors think.

We can only hope that the developer of the hog confinement, named as Wagner Finisher Farm of Iowa Falls (home of Iowa Select, the corporate hog integrator), sees what an awful location this is for its own hogs and for the hens. Glen Taylor is as good a land steward as most, and smart. He owns a lot of ground that would be good for hogs and near nobody in particular. He should direct the Iowa Falls integrators to that site and away from Rembrandt. He should get the hint: When the BV supervisors don’t like a livestock plan, it is a bad plan.