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Things get crowded under the golden dome, anti-smoking ad cost has senator smoldering

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The rotunda was filled with music and visitors. It was necessary to walk sideways in order to slide through the crowd.

The rotunda was filled with music and visitors. It was necessary to walk sideways in order to slide through the crowd. It was grocers, homeschoolers, advocates for smoke-free Iowa, and Clinton, boosters - all at the same time. Long time Capitol staffers scurried to the sidelines for refuge. Legislators visited with one group after another. Clinton provided lunch and I headed for an obscure room in the back of the Senate. Opening the door, I discovered four people who said they were in an infrastructure meeting - translated they were playing bridge! They offered to let me sit in as "dummy", but knowing I was in over my head, I declined.

Iowa Department of Public Health Director,, Thomas Newton revealed that his department has spent $596,000 of taxpayer money on recent advertisements promoting smoke-free bars and restaurants. The ads feature restaurant and bar workers talking about their work environment, and how "everyone has the right to breathe smoke free air." This comes at the same exact time the legislature is set to debate a smoking ban for all public places in Iowa. The Director says the ads were not intended to influence the debate. Wink! Wink!

Banning smoking in public places is a controversial burning issue. Pun intended. Regardless of position on the issue, Iowans should be outraged that taxpayer money is being spent so frivolously. This behavior pushes the letter of the law and is unacceptable. Taxpayers deserve better and state agencies should stop this practice.

There are several versions of local government smoking bans drifting out of Room 206 into the chambers of both the House and the Senate. Room 206 is a small room in the back of the Senate chambers that is known as the smoking room. It is the room smokers went to when smoking was no longer permitted in the chamber proper. These proposals may, however, be only bit players on the fringe of the stage. Stage center is debate in the House on a statewide ban of smoking in public places. That debate is scheduled for next week. Now, already it seems, some public places are more equal than others. Casinos are exempted as the bill comes out of committee. What amendments will be added, what the legislation will look like at the end of the day, is unknown. The final vote outcome is uncertain. House leadership may bring the issue to the floor without knowing the outcome. The Senate awaits!

This week, State Auditor David Vaudt released his review of Governor Culver's budget. It was not positive. Vaudt predicts some challenging years ahead. According to the Governor's plan, the funds used over the past few years to balance the budget will be used. The depletion of these funds in Fiscal Year 2009 creates a $361 million budget hole for Fiscal Year 2010. This means expenditures exceed revenues by $361 million.

In the Governor's plan, one-time bond proceeds would be used to balance the Fiscal Year 2009 operating budget and Vaudt predicts taxpayers will end up paying for those services for years to come. He also noted that planned expenditure growth over the past two year period is outpacing anticipated revenue growth.

There is currently $600 million in "Rainy Day" funds and if the Governor's proposed budget would pass, that fund could be wiped out in just one year. The Governor also proposes reallocating $90 million from long-term infrastructure spending placing it into the General Fund.

Iowans deserve a viable solution from their Governor when it comes to a balanced budget. His current proposal would leave them high and dry, passing the buck to the next generation. Long term planning is needed so future generations will not be left paying for the problems of today.

There will be a Forum in Storm Lake at 11:00 a.m. at the Lakeshore Café on February 23rd. You may also contact me via email steve.kettering@legis.state.ia.us or by calling the Senate switchboard at 515/281-3371. My postal address is State Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319. When I am home you may reach me at work 712/657-8525 or talk to my home answering machine at 712/657-3347.

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