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Iowa News Analysis: January 8, 2009

posted on January 12, 2009 at 10:32 AM

The state of print journalism and the possibility of new taxes are current topics discussed by host Paul Yeager and Associate Press reporter David Pitt.

Paul Yeager: 1We talk about people going to work, we have another story of layoffs today, this time one of Des Moines' bigger employers, Meredith Corporation, 250, they're in the publishing business.  The Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper has laid off.  And the story this weekend about Lee Enterprises based in Davenport in their struggles.  What's going on in the media industry, David?

David Pitt: Well, it's a very difficult time for newspapers in general and Lee Enterprises, obviously, is one of the larger newspaper holders and they're struggling very much with debt and trying to work their way through a situation in which they have had to write off significant losses in the value of their company just because their stock has plummeted quite a bit in the last year.  So, they've had to lay off some people.

Today's announcement involving Meredith Corporation, the publisher of Better Homes and Gardens and some other major magazines that people would be very familiar with, 250 people, about 100 of those would be in Des Moines.  So, it's just a very tough time.  The Meredith people I talked to today said it was mostly because of the advertising revenue falling off for their magazines and their television stations.

Paul Yeager: One story that those reporters left behind, are covering would be taxes and yesterday finally a panel, a long-time standing panel about taxes and this is a study committee by the Governor that was announced way back, like one of the very first things he did before he was even sworn in as Governor.  Tell me about why we had this tax group studying taxes in the state.

David Pitt: It's been a long standing issue in the state and it comes up almost every year in the legislature and has for a number of years, the perceived inequity between different segments of property tax payers.  We have the commercial property taxes that businesses pay, the agricultural taxes that farmers and people who own ag property pay and then the homes that you and I pay our property taxes on, those three segments and there's been a long standing issue among business people who believe that they have to pay kind of a higher level of taxes than the other two categories. 

So, there has been an interim study committee that's a committee that meets when the legislature is not in session.  They met last year, they met again this year and they just recently came out with a report on some suggestions on how to do that.

Paul Yeager: So, what were some of the findings and what took them so long?

David Pitt: Well, it's so complicated.  That's part of the reason why there's never been a resolution for the issue because, again, if you lower the taxes for one segment that tax burden has to be transferred somewhere else unless you lower the overall level of spending of government which typically doesn't happen. 

So, it's very complicated and you're going to have to figure out a formula so that you're simply not shifting the burden to someone else.  This committee came up with a number of recommendations that may allow, at least in the proposal, there has to be a bill written and it has to go through debate and it has to be passed but the proposal would allow different types of taxes to be raised on the local level by cities and counties.  One of the ways to do that would be a local income tax.

Paul Yeager: For example -- or was that a specific recommendation?

David Pitt: That's one of the possibilities that they would like to discuss.  It would allow cities and counties to have a certain percentage of tax on your income. 

Paul Yeager: So, if you would work in say Cedar Rapids or Waterloo and drive to a smaller town you would be taxed before you took that money out of town.

David Pitt: Exactly and I think the requirement would be that it would alleviate some of the property tax burden so if they did initiate this income tax a significant amount of that money would have to offset the property tax burden.

Paul Yeager: David Pitt, as always trying to talk about taxes is a very hard thing to do in four minutes but thank you.  That's David Pitt of the Associated Press.

Tags: government Iowa media news newspapers publishing

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