By Scott Levine
DES MOINES —
High-ranking state government officials on Thursday couldn’t escape a familiar topic.
The theme of Clinton County reverberated within the Iowa State Capitol’s walls, touching Senate and House leadership and filtering to the top level — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Several Clinton County officials traveled to Des Moines this week to address the governor and legislators about issues involving the county. Branstad and Reynolds met with the group for 45 minutes Thursday morning and then returned for a lunch hosted by Clinton County.
Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce President Nathan Sondgeroth said getting the word out about Clinton County is important for the area.
“It’s great that we can hear directly what’s on their (state officials) minds,” Sondgeroth said. “There’s no substitute for building those relationships.”
Representatives from Clinton, Camanche, DeWitt and the county presented information to Branstad and other Iowa Senate and House leaders, including House Majority leader Rep. Kraig Paulsen and Senate Majority leader Sen. Mike Gronstal, regarding issues and successes achieved in the county.
Discussions focused on key issues, like 411 pension reform, education, economic development, healthcare and transportation.
A common theme in the meetings referenced an increase in the fuel tax and Tax Increment Financing.
“I support TIF,” Branstad said. “I also know in Coralville and LeClaire there have been some abuses. But I recognize that it can be a key local tool for economic development.”
Those Iowa cities have come under scrutiny about their use of TIF funds. TIF allows the city to capture future tax gains to fund current improvements.
In fiscal year 2012, more than $1.8 million in incremental tax revenue was generated by TIF districts in Clinton. Most of that money is given back to the developers as part of the development agreements and the other part is used for the city to pay debt associated with the development.
An increase to the fuel tax also generated comments by Branstad, who said Transportation Director Paul Trombino is working on plans to help communities rebuild roads.
“That is a delicate issue and there’s a lot of opposition,” Branstad said. “I would prefer a pay-as-you-go basis. Illinois has bonded themselves into oblivion.”
Bonding has funded road work in Clinton and the county, forcing the local governments to pay off the work later, but with interest.
Clinton County officials have long argued for a fuel tax increase to help fund repairs. However, the Legislature has not enacted an increase, and House and Senate leaders agreed a hike wasn’t likely for this year’s session.
Local legislators Rep. Steve Olson, Sen. Rita Hart and Rep. Mary Wolfe joined in many of the discussions, and Sondgeroth said this group wouldn’t be as successful without the many partnerships in the county.
“We couldn’t do it if it wasn’t such a total county effort,” Sondgeroth said.