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Growing the Iowa Values Fund


The name given to the state’s seven-year, $503 million fund to jump-start development in promising high-growth sectors of the Iowa economy provides some subtle prodding to lawmakers. It’s the Grow Iowa Values Fund, not the Iowa Values Fund, the name that Gov. Tom Vilsack attached to the bold economic development initiative when he proposed it last January. Growing the fund is imperative, a command to Iowa lawmakers to maintain the state’s funding commitment beyond the first two years of the fund.

Lawmakers shortchanged the initiative by tying full funding to growth in state sales tax receipts, a cautious approach that robbed the fund of the luster it promised. A more aggressive posture is required, and lawmakers need to go back and correct their mistakes.

The economy is showing signs of improvement, but increases in consumer spending, and thus sales tax revenue, won’t immediately be realized. The Iowa economy needs stimulus from the Grow Iowa Values Fund now, before other states leapfrog ahead of us in attracting biotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing jobs that form the cornerstone of the new economy.

Without a commitment for full funding over the seven-year life of the Values Fund, it risks becoming an antilogy. Rather than attracting businesses, it could repel them. Instead of Iowa gaining a reputation as a state that helps business thrive, it could become known as one that thwarts it.

Though difficult budget decisions and possible cuts await lawmakers when they return to Des Moines in January, the Legislature isn’t completely without options. A proposal announced last week by the Iowa Chamber Alliance, a group of the largest chambers of commerce in the state, outlines a couple of them.

One is relatively painless to the average Iowan. Gambling interests currently contribute about $222 million to the state treasury, but should pay more. Restructuring casionos’ state tax rates – that is, providing equalization between the taxes paid by land-based and riverboat casinos, the crux of a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court – is a good place to start. Increasing the tobacco tax, which currently generates $88.1 million in revenues, is another. The tobacco tax is a voluntary tax, one smokers willingly pay.

The folly in the conservative approach lawmakers took when funding the initiatve has been proved. Legislators need to put growth back into the Grow Iowa Values Fund.  

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