How one guy can (and will) block funding for parks and water quality
"I will not support any sort of tax increase. Period."
This was basically the response I got Monday from Representative Guy Vander Linden (R, District 79) when I asked whether he'd be willing to support any bill that funded the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. I had made the trip up to the state capitol with about 10 of my colleagues to join 300+ other people from all over the state for an event there to show support for funding the Trust. (For background, read this series of posts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)
These events are mostly designed to be a "strength in numbers" type of thing. Get a bunch of people to the capitol, have them talk to their legislators, and collectively show broad support for this initiative.
But here's the thing. I've been going to these things for four or five consecutive years now. And it's always the same outcome. There's always one guy that holds all the power to block any progress (other than the Governor of course).
It shouldn't be that way. When you have something that has nearly 70 percent support from the citizens of the state, and which was born of those citizens' very wishes, it should at least make it to the floor for debate. At least let everyone weigh in on it.
But that's not how things work. Any tax bill, which this would be, ends up filtering through the Ways and Means Committee. Therefore, the chair of that committee has the power to decide whether such a bill even gets taken up for consideration. If it can't clear committee, it won't make it to the floor. The rest of the chamber doesn't get a chance to even represent their constituents on the issue.
This day, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee - Guy Vander Linden - stated bluntly to me and my colleagues that not only would he not support a bill to increase the state sales tax to fund the Trust, but that he wouldn't even let it through his committee.
In other words, he would single-handedly kill any chance the Iowa House of Representatives has of actually doing what the vast majority of Iowans want them to do. If the House does come up with a bill, the 99 other Representatives won't even get to debate it.
Democracy in action.
It's infuriating. This exact same thing happened the last two years also. Then, we just figured we'd wait until the turnover (the then-Committee chair decided not to run again), only to get the same result: A legislator in a high-power position that espouses a blanket "no tax ever" policy.
The problem with such a blanket policy is that it completely eliminates the possibility of debate or compromise. And without those, how can we ever expect to get anything done? Sure, it's fine to have strong convictions about policy issues such as taxes. Nobody likes taxes. But when the majority of the state, and probably even the majority of the very people that elected you, want otherwise...it seems rational that you at least be open to discussion.
When I pressed Rep. Vander Linden on it, he basically said we can all wait for next year when he's not around anymore (apparently he's not running for reelection). History repeats itself again.
We've "waited for next year" for seven years running now. I'm done waiting. I'm done being ignored. I'm done with one man stifling the collective will of the very people he's supposed to represent.
The bright side of my trip came when I spoke with my own Senator. I managed to catch Sen. Tom Greene just as he came out of caucus and before he had to run off to another meeting. He indicated that there was growing interest in the Senate to get some sort of tax reform bill through yet this year that would include a sales tax increase which would automatically fund the Trust.
"You think it'd pass your side?" I asked. He thought it would.
|Senator Greene and a bunch of us from Southeast Iowa.|
I tried to meet with Senator Randy Feestra, the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee but he wasn't available. I'd have liked to have heard whether he agreed with Senator Greene since he'd be the one any sort of tax bill would filter through on the Senate side.
I also tried to meet with the Speaker of the House, Linda Upmeyer, to see what recourse there'd be to possibly get around an obstruction by Vander Linden. I don't know the "system" well enough to know if that's even possible so I figured it'd be worth asking. Plus, I'd have liked to have known where she stood on the issue since she's ultimately the gatekeeper that decides what makes it to the House floor for debate after bills clear their respective committees. Again, I was told she wasn't available.
In all, the trip was pretty much just like the others I've been on over the last few years, albeit with maybe more people in attendance (it's hard to tell if there were more this year or last year; I'd be curious to see the numbers). It was encouraging to hear there's possibly some motivation in the Senate to fund the Trust but that's pretty much offset by knowing the House Ways and Means Committee chair is adamantly opposed.
So where do we go from here?
I'm not exactly sure. I'm sure we all need to keep pressure on our own legislators to support funding the Trust. Beyond that, I think we all need to let those in key leadership positions on both sides know where we stand on the issue. We might not all be voters in their districts, but they get to decide whether our own legislators get to vote on certain bills or not. So in that respect, they need to represent all of us. Which means they need to hear from all of us.
I'll make this easy for you. Here are the names and contact information for the chairs of the Ways and Means Committees in both chambers (all committees are listed here):
- House Ways and Means - Guy Vander Linden - email@example.com - Capitol phone: 515-281-3221
- Senate Ways and Means - Randy Feenstra - Randy.Feenstra@legis.iowa.gov - Capitol phone: 515-281-3371
While we're at it, let's go ahead and also hit up the leaders on both sides:
- Speaker of the House: Linda Upmeyer - Linda.firstname.lastname@example.org - Capitol phone: 515-281-3221
- Senate President: Jack Whitver - Jack.email@example.com - Capitol phone: 515-281-3371
You can find any legislator here.
Pick up the phone. Send an email. Engage on social media. Whatever.
Just don't let them ignore us any longer. #FundTheTrust