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Iowa News Analysis: Farm Prices, CIETC, Legislature Final Days

posted on April 18, 2008 at 1:35 PM

Yeager: David, this might be about the final week we discuss this. It looks like they're coming in for a landing soon but what are they going to do in these final few days?

Pitt: Well, I think it's a necessity that they have to pass the state budget so they have about 10 budget bills. The budget is kind of separated into different pieces and they have that left to be done. So, today they were doing a lot of speeches, some of the retiring legislators were giving their farewell addresses and they were doing some things on the floor while most likely the leaders were behind the scenes hammering out the negotiations for how these budget bills are going to shape up.

Yeager: Are we seeing big flags that say these are things they're working on or staying away from? We already saw something with the transportation last week raising the fees there. Are there other things that we might see come through?

Pitt: Well, that transportation bill that you mentioned will be signed by the Governor tomorrow. This is the bill that raises the fees when you go renew the plates for your vehicle. So, that will be signed tomorrow so that one was accomplished. There are some other things that may fall by the wayside as, again, they just basically turned their focus to how we're going to spend the money and where we're going to spend it and that kind of thing.

Yeager: You mentioned the Governor is going to put his pen to that bill tomorrow. Last week he signed the smoking ban bill. Already we're seeing a lawsuit challenge -- a claim that they're going to file a lawsuit and that is a group of Clinton bar owners. What are they saying and what are they claiming?

Pitt: Right, they're actually bar owners in Clinton and Wilton, two different towns and they are trying to raise money basically to hire an attorney to take the case to court. They want to raise enough money that if they have to appeal it up to the Supreme Court they have the money and resources to do that. So, they're kind of starting with that strategy, let's see how many bar owners we can get to pony up some money so that we have enough money to take this to court.

Yeager: And that's as far as we've seen -- we haven't seen other challenges pop up at this point have we?

Pitt: No, and this challenge is based on the fairness issue. They believe that it's just unfair that there are certain exemptions in the bill that would allow smoking on casino floors but yet it bans it in bars. So, that seems to be the grounds of which they would bring up the lawsuit.

Yeager: And sticking on the eastern part of the state, the CIETC trial, the Central Iowa training group trial moved from Des Moines to Davenport, closing arguments today. What are we expecting out of that and how soon before the jury will get this case?

Pitt: It looks like it will probably go to the jury yet today and then it will kind of be determined about how late in the day and whether the jury wants to stay and begin deliberations or whether a judge sends them home and they come back in the morning and organize themselves and start their deliberations. So, either late today or tomorrow they'll start.

Yeager: David, you wrote something already that's starting to make the rounds about the farm economy. What is the background? You're comparing the 1970s to today. What was the initial idea for this story? And where did you go from there?

Pitt: Well, myself and a colleague, Henry Jackson at the AP here in Des Moines, we got the idea when we looked at the last report on farmland values. We have known for a while that farmland values are going up very quickly, farm income is going up very quickly and it just dawned on us, you know, that this sounds an awful lot like the 1970s. The farm economy of the 70s was a boom time and everybody thought that the boom time was here to stay and a lot of farmers took on debt. So, we started talking with some farm economists and some farmers themselves and we heard from them that sure, it does seem like we have that kind of economy setting itself up. I guess the warning from some of the farm economists was what we have to do is make sure the farm debt doesn't rise because that could get us into some trouble as it did before.

Yeager: And that was one thing that you looked at. You mentioned how you talked about where the farm debt is and to where it was historically. How are we proportionally? Granted prices are different now today than they were. But how is that ratio?

Pitt: Well, the USDA would say that there is still a huge difference between farm debt and the equity that farmers have in their land and their property. So, we're not into a point where -- we're not saying that this is going to happen, we're not saying the sky is falling but I think it's just a cautionary word that this farm economy looks really strong now just as it did in the 70s. There are assumptions that the ethanol industry is going to keep this farm economy going very healthy for a long time and I think the cautionary tale is just don't assume that it's going to be there forever because the economy has a tendency to be rather cyclical and there is a fear that we could find ourselves on the down side of that. And if farmers take on a lot of debt there could be some problems.

Yeager: And you had talked to a farmer who had been through two other cycles before and he's still farming right now. What did he tell you in what he's doing with his family or what he's passing onto fellow farmers?

Pitt: It's Harlan Myer in Davenport, I think you know him, he's in his 70s now and he does remember the farm crisis of the 80s and he's one of the farmers we talked to and he did agree with kind of the premise and that is, you know, it's probably not a good idea to get into a lot of debt and assume that the boom time is going to be here forever.

Yeager: We'll see how that plays out. And Harlan, you said, is going to be in Paris on the newspaper tomorrow, is that right?

Pitt: One of the stories is going to run in a paper in Europe.

Yeager: So, it's making the rounds worldwide. David Pitt of the Associated Press, thank you as always for coming in tonight.

Tags: agriculture CIETC Iowa news smoking