House Panel Approves Field of Dreams Sales Tax Rebate Plan

By James Lynch, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa - Like a spring training prospect, a bill offering a sales tax rebate to a company planning a $38 million investment in the Field of Dreams got roughed up by an Iowa House committee March 20, but managed to stay in the game.

The Ways and Means Committee took a few whacks at House File 2419, but approved it 19-6 and sent it on its way to the big leagues for full House consideration.

HF 2419 authorizes the Iowa Department of Revenue to rebate sales tax collected by retailers on purchases made at a baseball and softball tournament facility and movie site.

Go the Distance Baseball LLC has plans to develop the 193-acre Field of Dreams site near Dyersville as a $38.4 million youth baseball and softball complex with 24 fields, dormitories and other amenities.

The project is projected to create 506 jobs and generate $47 million in economic activity via tourism spending at restaurants, hotels and other spin-off retail activity.

"It's a unique project," said Rep. Steve Lukan, D-New Vienna, who filed the bill. "It's a big opportunity for Iowa to put one of Iowa icons back on the map."

"It's a one-of-a-kind attraction," Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, agreed. "A facility like this can't be built anywhere else in the world ... so from that standpoint, it's worth looking at."

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, looked at it and had questions. He voted for it in the Economic Growth Committee, but against it Wednesday because of concerns about the precedent it sets.

HF 2419 authorizes the Iowa Department of Revenue to rebate sales tax collected by retailers on purchases made at a baseball and softball tournament facility and movie site.

Although the bill's language is crafted to apply only to the Dyersville project, Jacoby worries its approval is likely to encourage others to ask for similar rebates.

Chairman Tom Sands, R-Wapello, voiced similar concerns, asking whether future projects will bypass the state Economic Development Authority and come directly to the Legislature. Lawmakers, he said, aren't necessarily qualified or provided with the right information to make those decisions.

"We really need to think about setting up parameters," Sands said. He emphasized his remarks were not about the Field of Dreams project, "but there will be another project and another project and another project."

Few projects that would qualify for similar assistance, Lukan said. "This is a true Iowa icon."

If the Legislature had continued the Grow Iowa Values Fund "we wouldn't have to be voting on this, picking winners and losers," Jacoby said. "It would go through the process through the economic development board and be judged on the viability of the project."

The committee voted 16-9 to require that Iowans own at least 51 percent of the project. That wasn't a concern for Jacoby.

"If someone lives in Illinois and wants to invest in Iowa, I'm all for it," he said. "Even if they are White Sox fans."

He suggested the length of time it's taken to get through the committee process shows there is some reluctance in both parties. "People are still working through some of the nuances."

A Senate companion bill has been approved by the Economic Growth Committee and referred to Ways and Means.

In other action March 21, the House:
– approved SF 2296 to increase the penalty for solicitation to commit murder despite arguments it's merely "code clutter."

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said no one could find a case in Iowa history where a defendant was charged with attempted murder and either was not penalized or received less than the current maximum prison sentence for attempted murder.

"This is a perfect example of creating a law just because we can. We don't need it," Wolfe said.

It is needed, Taylor argued "because 48 senators versus one said so. It's needed because your county attorneys said so."

The House agreed 82-12.

– voted 94-0 to call on Iowa colleges and universities to enact policies and procedure to protect youth on their campuses from any sort of child abuse, according to Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola. He said the regents reported they already have taken those steps.

SF 2225 also protects employees from retaliation from their employers if they make a good faith report of child abuse. Also, it directs the Department of Public Health to convene stakeholders to advise the Legislature on step to take to improve training for mandatory child abuse reporters.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, who worked on the bill, called it "appropriate reaction to what happened at Penn State."

Approved by the Senate 50-0, SF 2225 goes to the governor.

Also, the House Ways and Means Committee approved HF 2382 25-0, amending it to increase accountability, according to Rep. Chuck Soderberg, R-Le Mars. It increases the tax credit investors in the Iowa Innovation Fund can claim from 20 percent to up to 100 percent. Soderberg said the 20 percent tax credit has not attracted any investors. The 100 percent tax credit would expire July 31, 2014.
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