The idea of a Buffalo Bills quarterback running for Congress might sound silly until one realizes it’s already happened. Former Congressman Jack Kemp, a Republican and a well-known economic conservative, served nine terms in the U.S. House from western New York after playing pro football for 13 years.
Now there’s speculation that Buffalo quarterback Kyle Orton, 31, an Iowa native who graduated from Southeast Polk High School, could also be headed for a political career.
In a Buffalo News article last week titled “Kyle Orton: The Bills’ Quiet Warrior,” the former Purdue University history student is described as a deep, philosophical thinker. “He’s known as erudite, cultured and politically inspired. He’s an advocate for social causes and workers’ rights.”
The article notes that the football player’s father, Byron Orton, a Democrat, is a former Iowa labor commissioner and that Orton told the New York Times in the past that Congress “is definitely something that I want to do when I get older.”
Asked recently by a Buffalo News reporter if he still remains passionate about politics, Kyle Orton replied, “Definitely.”
Then he walked away.
— William Petroski
Amtrak use slips in Iowa, rises in U.S.
Amtrak ridership is down in Iowa, despite record ticket sales across the United States.
The National Passenger Railroad Corp., which runs Amtrak, last week reported all-time ticket revenues of $2.18 billion for fiscal year 2014, which ended Sept. 30. That was based on ridership nationally of more than 30.9 million, an increase of less than 1 percent.
In Iowa, Amtrak had 57,238 riders for the 12 months ending in September, down 4.3 percent compared with a year earlier. Both of the state’s Amtrak trains run through sparsely populated southern Iowa, avoiding the state’s major population centers, which has hurt efforts to bolster ridership.
A push to expand Amtrak train service between Chicago and Iowa City, and eventually to Des Moines en route to Omaha, has been declared dead in the Legislature.
That’s because Republican lawmakers refuse to provide matching state money for a $53 million federal grant needed to establish a route. GOP legislative leaders say that if a passenger train is a good idea it should be developed by private investors, and not with taxpayer money. Meanwhile, plans are continuing in Illinois for a train between Chicago and Moline, Ill., that would serve the Quad Cities area.
Here are Amtrak ridership figures for Iowa stations for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30: Burlington, 8,813; Mount Pleasant, 12,030; Ottumwa, 11,109; Osceola, 13,986; Creston, 4,314; Fort Madison, 6,986.
— William Petroski
New report ranks tax climate low
Iowa has the 41st-best tax climate in the U.S. according to the latest edition of the State Business Tax Climate Index, released last week by the Tax Foundation, a policy research group based in Washington, D.C.
That’s down two places from 39th last year.
Here is a breakdown of how Iowa ranks in various tax categories: corporate tax structure, 49th; individual income tax structure, 32nd; sales tax structure, 23rd; property tax structure, 38th; and unemployment insurance tax structure, 33rd.
Officials said a major cut statewide in Iowa property taxes approved by the Iowa Legislature last year was not reflected in this year’s report, but it will be included in future reports.
The Tax Climate Index measures how well-structured each state’s code is by analyzing more than 100 tax variables in five categories: corporate, individual income, sales, property, and unemployment insurance taxes.
States are punished for overly complex, burdensome and economically harmful tax codes but are rewarded for transparent and neutral tax codes that do not distort business decisions, officials said.
A state’s ranking can rise or fall significantly not only because of its own actions, but because of changes or reforms made in other states, officials said.
“The federal government is gridlocked, but state policymakers on both sides of the aisle are enacting truly fundamental reforms,” said Tax Foundation Economist and Manager of State Projects Scott Drenkard. “States are doing their part, and it’s time that Washington steps up.”
— William Petroski
Nonprofit says $7M spent on TV
Much has been written this campaign cycle about the massive TV ad spending in Iowa’s extremely close U.S. Senate race. Less analysis has been devoted to advertising for the many other contests on the ballot.
Filling that void in the waning days of the campaign is the Center for Public Integrity, which late last week released a review of state-level TV ad spending in Iowa.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit news organization, $6.9 million was spent on 23,800 commercials for state races from January through Oct. 27.
The vast majority of that total — $4.9 million and about 16,000 ads — focused on the race for governor, in which incumbent Republican Terry Branstad is expected to win a sixth term over Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.
Commercials for state legislative candidates totaled another $1.4 million, and statewide down-ballot candidates spent another $500,000.
The U.S. Senate race between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley, by contrast, has seen upwards of $30 million in TV ad spending and at least 88,000 ads, according to the center.
— Jason Noble