Iowa Legislative Session Didn’t Upset Too Much, Cedar Rapids Mayor Says

By Mike Wiser, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau

JOHNSTON, Iowa. — Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett says the casino plan for his city isn’t dead yet, because Gov. Terry Branstad seemed open to having a smoke-free casino in the state.

“That was probably about as encouraging as we could have received,” Corbett said following a Friday taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” Program. “Now, (Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Chairman Jeff) Lamberti and the commission, the governor’s their boss, and their boss is saying, ‘I’d like to see, maybe, a smoke-free casino,’ so let’s see if that gets any traction.”

In April, the Racing and Gaming Commission voted 4-1 against a $164 million casino proposal for Cedar Rapids.

Corbett joined Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie for the “Iowa Press” taping, where the mayors talked about gaming, climate change and a host of issues facing Iowa’s municipalities.

Cownie and Corbett agreed the recently completed legislative session didn’t cause much heartache for the state’s two largest cities.

“We’re always working on flood issues, so we proposed a little bit of a tweak to go before the board to allow regional applications and we got great bipartisan support,” Cownie said. “Republicans, Democrats in both the Senate and the House.”

Corbett also gave lawmakers credit for keeping their commitment to reimburse municipalities for revenue lost from the 2013 property tax reform bill.

“They did fulfill their promise for this year,” he said. “Now, we’re on guard for future years to make sure they do that, but we’re happy they did do that.”

Corbett said he was “disappointed” the Legislature didn’t make a stronger push to fix infrastructure.

“We need support,” Cownie said. “As Mayor Corbett said, we all, all of our metro mayors came together in full support of a gas tax increase because we think it’s the right thing to do for all of Iowa.”

Cownie, who is a member of a federal task force charged with making recommendations to help cities mitigate the effects of climate change, such as heavy rains alternating with periods of drought, said cities are going to need help.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in Congress, but I think this administration is committed to trying to figure out what kind of schemes can we put together in terms of funding for projects, much as the mayor and I are working on in our cities,” he said. “And Iowa, you know, it used to be that 85 percent of the water that came from the sky was absorbed on-site. Now, it has switched. It’s 85 percent is in the river and 15 percent is absorbed on-site.”

Both also said they like being mayors and don’t have any ambition, at least in the immediate future, for other offices.

“Well, if you follow the trends nationally, where things are at is at the cities, and as people become frustrated and disenchanted with Washington solving any problems and state legislators, they’re actually looking to mayors like Mayor Cownie and other mayors to solve problems,” Corbett said. “So if you really want to impact people’s lives, being a mayor is where you really want to be.”

The program is scheduled to air at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on IPTV. The program also will be broadcast on IPTV World (.3) at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. “Iowa Press” will be available online beginning Friday evening at iptv.org.

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