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Civic Skinny

September 13, 2012
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How Iowa pays its dues — to 437 organizations


Oops. When Terry Branstad ran for office this latest time, he promised to create 200,000 jobs in five years. A year-and-a-half has passed. According to the latest figures from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, there now are 7,600 fewer jobs than when he took office.

But look at it from the positive side: Just 207,600 to go. ...

Your tax dollars at work:

If you work for the state, and you or your agency want $50 to join, say, the Association of American Feed Control Officials or $11,660 to join, say, the Council of State Community Development Agencies, you can’t just write a check. You have to go to the Executive Council to request approval, even though it’s in your budget. There’s paperwork involved, and clear records are kept.

Cityview asked for the records. Here’s what they disclose:

In the most recent fiscal year, the state approved 437 requests and spent $1,583,408.24 so its employees and agencies could be involved in various trade organizations. The outlays ranged from just a few dollars — $25 to join the National Association of Women Highway Safety leaders, for example, or $40 to join the United States Police Canine Association — to the $66,050.92 approved for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and the $67,700 for the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based group seeking to develop “effective policy and practice for public education.” (Where does that $67,600 go? Among other things, the group pays its executive director around $330,000 a year, and in 2010 — the latest year for which tax returns are available — it paid a management-consulting firm $177,000.)

The Executive Council never turns anything down, mainly because the requests first go to the Department of Management, and the ones that get to the Executive Council all come with a recommendation to approve by the Department of Management. That practice started a couple of years ago, but a guy who carefully watched things during the Culver Administration says he can’t recall any request being turned down in those years.

The Executive Council comprises the Governor, the State Auditor, the State Treasurer and the secretaries of agriculture and state. They meet every couple of weeks to approve various outlays — hiring of outside counsel, approval of memberships, travel requests and the like. These days, it’s rare to see a “no” vote, though in the Culver administration Secretary of State Michael Mauro and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey — a Democrat and a Republican — sometimes joined to oppose an item.

In the most recent fiscal year, the Iowa Department of Education spent by far the most money, putting out $362,965.23 for dues and memberships in 35 organizations, according to state figures. The Department of Natural Resources shelled out $118,583 to 37 organizations and the Department of Transportation paid $116,666.02 to 25 organizations.

Some of the outlays seemed aimed more at keeping peace and friends in town than at enhancing the work of an agency. The DOT, for instance, pays $1,500 to the Ames Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Veterans Affairs pays $162 to the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation pays about $1,700 in total to belong to the chambers in Burlington, Carroll, Clear Lake, Creston, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Ottumwa, the Quad Cities and Storm Lake. Though state government and most agencies are based in Des Moines, no agency pays any dues for memberships in the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

Others just seem odd. The National Association of Women Highway Safety Leaders, which is based in Des Moines — Des Moines, Wash., that is — doesn’t seem to have a purpose distinguishable from any other highway safety organization, hasn’t filed a form 990 tax return in five years and has a notation of “pending” for its representative from Iowa (and 22 other states). Still, $25 isn’t going to break the DOT.

Educators charge the most for the right to hang out with one another. Besides the $67,700 paid to the Education Commission of the States, in the most recent year the Iowa Department of Education paid $45,000 for membership in the Council of Chief State School Officers, $35,285 in dues to the National Association of State Boards of Education and $11,479.23 to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. It paid a total of $140,500 to eight different arms of the Council of Chief State School Officers and its affiliated State Collaboratives on Assessment and Student Standards.

Of course, once you belong to an organization, you’re encouraged to attend its annual gatherings, and they’re not often in Fargo or Missoula, though the National Association of State Foresters ($7,000) is meeting in Cheyenne next week. Most meet in Washington — sorry, but registration is already closed for next month’s meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials ($4,000) — but others find more comfortable surroundings. Last week, the National Association of State Park Directors ($1,600) met in Lexington, Ken., for four days, but the business meetings were conveniently all in one day with “breakout sessions” on the other days, along with “fun-filled evening events, a variety of sightseeing tours and a diverse group of vendors that are dedicated to helping you.”

And right now the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators ($6,000) is meeting at a waterfront hotel in Mobile, Ala. The convention-goers just missed Hurricane Isaac, but the weather is still supposed to be hot and rainy. (Next year’s conference will be in hurricane-free Boise.) ...

The state shouldn’t have any trouble paying for any of this, for Iowa is going great. In the first two months of this fiscal year, net tax receipts were up $86.3 million, or 9.3 percent, from the like year-earlier period, according to the latest figures from the Legislative Services Agency. Everything is up. Personal income taxes received were up $26.8 million, or 5.3 percent; sales and use tax receipts were up $13.4 million, or 3.1 percent, and corporate tax receipts were up $25.2 million, or a whopping 68.5 percent.

Despite the hot weather in July and August, taxes on the sale of beer declined nearly 40 percent, to $1.7 million from $2.8 million a year earlier. However, the students now have returned to Iowa City — the University of Iowa is the second biggest party school in the country — so that should turn around this fall. ...

Follow-up: After Cityview went to press last week, the good folks at Scotty’s Body Shop confirmed they are indeed buying the old Casson’s Meat Market on Grand. “The deal is pretty much done,” Scotty says. He plans to lease the property. “Possibly restaurant, retail or office.” ...

“I will really be pissed if the next person in my chair screws things up! Is that being egotistical? — Nancy Sebring CV


A random sample

Amer. Assn. of State Highway and Transportation officials $44,839

National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners $25,907

American Public Human Services Association $22,120

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture $21,400

Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board $21,080

National Association of State Budget Officers $16,545

Food Export Association of the Midwest $10,000

Association of State Drinking Water Administrators $9,200

U.S. Meat Export Federation $8,600

Council of Landscape Architectural Examining Boards $5,170

Association of Racing Commissioners Int’l $5,000

Western Council of State Libraries $3,000

Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards $1,240

Iowa Bicycle Coalition $1,000

Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association $550

International Interior Design Association $465

Iowa Restaurant Association $215

Association of Boxing Commissioners $200

Meals on Wheels Association of America $150

Midwest Travel Writers Association $125

National Sporting Clays Association $100

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association $45

Iowa Police Chiefs Association $45

Iowa Wine Growers Association $45

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