SIOUX CITY | After weeks monitoring the construction activity while looking northwest across Grandview Boulevard out of a window in the old Bishop Heelan Catholic High School, teacher Jeri Sturges was very pleased to be able to give Spanish class lessons in the new $10 million school.
Sturges was among the teachers and students who shared superlatives Friday, as they spent the first day of classes in the new Heelan school.
"It is really incredible. It just seems like they thought of everything," Sturges said.
"I had a student ask, 'What do you hate about the new building?' I said, nothing, I love every little bit of it."
The school replaces the former high school, just to the east at 1021 Douglas St. The new school was opened in two pieces. The fine arts wing opened in 2014, as of Friday now connects to the academic wing.
There are 29 classrooms, 15 upstairs and 14 on the main level. In some places, large crosses have been prominently placed into the architecture.
Moving of furniture, books and other items from the old school occurred over the recent holiday break, Heelan Principal Chris Bork said, in the days from Dec. 21 to 27. Teachers spent Tuesday through Thursday readying for the start of classes.
"We're thrilled with the building. It is such an upgrade...It is fabulous. Our kids are walking around with their mouths open," Bork said.
The old school, where more than 10,000 students have been educated since opening in 1949, likely will be razed.
Sturges said she is well acquainted with the faults of the old building, after graduating from Heelan in 1985 and then teaching at the school for the last 25 years. She said "it felt old" more than 30 years ago when she was a pupil, and current students said the lack of building temperature consistency was a poor feature.
Still, seniors Jake Brown and Megan Janssen said it was somewhat bittersweet to leave the old building. Janssen noted some students were feeling angst on acclimating themselves to a new layout, no matter how functional and aesthetically pleasing.
"This school feels more modern. It feels very sleek," said Brown, who gets to spend his last semester in the new building. Brown added that older cousins shared envy on his attendance in the new building.
More than 600 hallway lockers for the 500-pupil school shone with a blue sheen.
Built by general contractor W.A. Klinger, the high school academic wing gives news classrooms, administration offices, a counseling center and chaplain offices in more than 55,000 square feet. In addition, it contains significant upgrades in technology connections, plus lecture and science labs and learning centers in which students can conduct group work.
"The technology is really nice. We have used it already," Janssen said prior to the noon lunch.
Sturges said she appreciated that teachers got to give input as the new Heelan plans were put together. Principal Bork said the teachers worked well this week, first in prep and then once pupils were ready to be taught.
Bork said there were limited glitches on Friday, but a few key fobs weren't letting people in some doors.
"It is incredible. I am thrilled to be part of it, and really, really excited, not just as a principal, but as a parent of two kids who will graduate from Heelan," Bork said. "As a community, we made this dream come true for our students and staff. Our staff might be as excited as the students."
Since many buildings last for 60 to 90 years, Bork added that many people will never experience as students the splash of attending a new school in the first year. He noted that was the case as he progressed through Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn in Northwest Iowa.
"I never so much as saw a new addition put on a school," Bork said.
More pieces could be coming to the new facility. Pending fundraising of $3 million to $4 million, a new gymnasium could adjoin the southwest side of the school by the 2018-19 year winter sports season.
SIOUX CITY | Siouxland Chamber President Chris McGowan publicly admonished state Rep. Chris Hall Friday for using "incendiary" and "inflammatory" language in a lawsuit Hall filed earlier this week against Gov. Kim Reynolds, saying the partisan tone doesn't reflect well on Sioux City.
"I don't think you did our community a service by criticizing our governor with that language," McGowan told the Sioux City Democrat.
Hall, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, is challenging Reynolds’ transfer of $13 million from an emergency reserve fund in September to balance the state’s budget at the end of fiscal 2017. In a petition filed electronically Monday in Polk County District Court, Hall claims Reynolds and Department of Management director Dave Roederer conspired to unlawfully appropriate and misuse state funds.
McGowan, who made his comments during a forum the Chamber of Commerce hosted for Hall and other Sioux City area legislators, emphasized he was not necessarily criticizing the substance of the lawsuit, but rather the way it was written by Hall or his lawyers.
Hall responded that he does not believe the city or business community will face any negative association with the suit, and added he's optimistic lawmakers will quickly resolve the budget issue and render the litigation a non-issue.
The Sioux City Democrat said he was heartened by comments made Thursday by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who said Reynolds' action complied with the spirit but not letter of the law. Upmeyer said she expects the GOP-controlled House will consider updating the code section once the 2018 session convenes on Monday.
"I'm glad that with yesterday's acknowledgement from the speaker of the House this is something that we're going to address in the first few weeks of the session," Hall told reporters after the event, which was held at the Long Lines Family Rec Center. "Hopefully it rules the issue moot, and we'll dismiss the legal challenge as well. That's my preferred outcome."
Hall added he wanted to continue to correspond with McGowan in private.
"I've received one email, and frankly as far as the exchange that I had with Chris, I'd just prefer to keep that personable and, you know, and leave it as an exchange between the two of us," Hall told reporters.
McGowan, a registered Republican, said the petition reads like a "press release, not a lawsuit." The Chamber president did not cite specific examples of language he found "incendiary" or "inflammatory."
According to the suit, while Reynolds had the opportunity to convene a special session to seek legislation to authorize an appropriation to cover the deficit, such a move "would have created a political problem ... by drawing attention to her inability to adequately manage the State's fiscal affairs." The suit also calls the reasons Reynolds and Roederer didn't foresee the budget deficit "as unexplainable as they are inexplicable."
Hall, who represents House District 13, was among four local legislators who attended Friday's forum where they took questions from Chamber members about the state budget, taxes and other issues. Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City, and Rep. Chuck Holz, R-Le Mars, also participated.
McGowan noted that Hall's responses to Chamber members' questions about the lawsuit seemed to strike a different tone and were "very rational" and "very deliberative."
Lawmakers created the State Economic Emergency Fund to cushion the blow of fiscal downturns on core services. Under the law, the governor has the authority to transfer up to $50 million from the fund when certain conditions are met, including that annual general fund revenue collections be at least 0.5 percent less than estimated by the state's revenue-estimating panel during the third quarter of the year. The $7.1 billion collected for the general fund in fiscal year 2017 was only 0.15 percent — or $11 million — lower than the panel's March 2017 estimate, not enough to trigger the governor's transfer authority, the lawsuit claims.
WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators have made the first known criminal referral in congressional investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, targeting the author of a dossier of allegations about President Donald Trump's ties to Russia.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday they had referred former British spy Christopher Steele to the Justice Department for investigation about false statements he may have made to the government. Graham is the chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee that is investigating the Russian meddling.
The referral comes after Republicans in Congress have made several attempts in recent weeks to undermine the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, the Justice Department and the FBI, charging there is anti-Trump bias within the ranks of federal agents and prosecutors.
In a cover letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray released by the committee, the senators said the referral relates to "certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple U.S. news outlets regarding the so-called 'Trump dossier.'" The rest of the referral is classified and was not released.
Lawmakers cannot prosecute, but generally refer any criminal violations they find to the Justice Department. On Friday, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said the department had received the referral and will review it.
The dossier is a compilation of memos Steele wrote during the 2016 campaign that contained several allegations of connections between Trump and Russia, including that Trump had been compromised by the Kremlin. Trump has called the dossier "phony" and derided it as a politically motivated hit job, and many Republicans in Congress have been focused on discrediting it.
The cover letter does not say who the senators believe Steele lied to, but Grassley said in a statement about the referral that "everyone needs to follow the law and be truthful in their interactions with the FBI."
Republicans have been asking the Justice Department for months whether the dossier was used as part of its initial investigation into Russian interference.
The dossier was turned over to the FBI in 2016, and federal investigators worked to corroborate portions of it. Some of the information was distilled into a summary that then-FBI Director James Comey presented to then-president-elect Trump in January 2017.
More recently, Mueller's investigators interviewed Steele in Europe as part of their probe into Russian election interference and ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.
Trump's effort to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal and loyal supporter of his election bid, in charge of an investigation into his campaign offers special counsel Mueller yet another avenue to explore as his prosecutors work to untangle potential evidence of obstruction.
The federal investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia already includes a close look at whether Trump's actions as president constitute an effort to impede that same probe. Those include the firing Comey, an allegation by Comey that Trump encouraged him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president's role in drafting an incomplete and potentially misleading statement about a 2016 meeting with Russians.
The latest revelation — that Trump directed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to tell Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — is known to Mueller's investigators, who have interviewed many current and former executive branch officials. It adds to the portrait of a president left furious by an investigation that he has called a hoax and suggests that he worked through an intermediary to keep the inquiry under the watch of an attorney general he expected would be loyal.
Three people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Associated Press that McGahn spoke with Sessions just before he announced his recusal to urge him not to do so. One of the people said McGahn contacted Sessions at the president's behest. All three spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly discussing an ongoing investigation.
Although the episode makes clear Trump's exasperation with the investigation, it remains unclear whether Mueller's team has evidence to establish that the president's collective actions were done with the corrupt intent needed to prove obstruction of justice.
Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly maintained that he did nothing improper and that, as president, he had unequivocal authority to fire Comey and to take other actions. They may also argue that the president was empowered to want the attorney general he appointed to oversee the Justice Department's Russian meddling investigation or, as McGahn contended to Sessions, that there was no basis or reason at that time for the attorney general to recuse himself.
DES MOINES | Iowans could see an estimated $1.538 billion cut in their individual federal income payments in tax year 2018, but the changes could mean they pay an extra $260 million over three years in higher state taxes due to Iowa's federal deductibility law, according to a state report released Friday.
Director Courtney Kay-Decker and analyst Amy Harris of the Iowa Department of Revenue said their preliminary analysis of the federal tax reforms passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last month would reduce overall income tax liabilities for 1,440,402 Iowa taxpayers by more than $1.538 billion.
The cuts would range from an average of:
-- $186 for those making $20,000 or less, a 155 percent reduction, for 431,285 Iowa taxpayers.
-- $639 for those making between $20,001 and $40,000, a 49 percent reduction for 325,496 taxpayers.
-- $1,076 for those making between $40,001 and $80,000, a 20 percent reduction for the 354,375 Iowans.
-- $2,639 for those making $80,0001 or more annually, a 9 percent reduction for 329,246 Iowans.
"We knew this reform was going to have a really big impact," Kay-Decker told the state Revenue Estimating Conference on Friday.
Because Iowa is one of three states that allows its taxpayers to fully deduct their federal tax liability on their state income tax returns, revenue experts calculated that Iowa would collect an extra $16 million in the current budget year that ends June 30; an additional $106 million in fiscal 2019; and $138 million in additional state revenue in fiscal 2020 when the changes are fully implemented, according to the report.
The agency officials did not include corporate tax law changes in the preliminary analysis.
"It is crystal clear that nearly every Iowan at every income level will benefit from federal tax reform," said Brenna Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Kim Reynolds. "However, we believe Iowa families should not be punished with higher state taxes as a result and will look at our options for returning that money to them."
David Roederer, chairman of the Revenue Estimating Conference and Reynolds' budget director, said he expected the governor would reveal in her Condition of the State address Tuesday whether she would recommend this year's estimate of up to $16 million in increased state revenue should be used to help pay down a projected state budget deficit of $37 million by June 30 or rolled into a tax cut plan she hopes to formulate with majority legislative Republicans during the 2018 session that opens Monday.
"The good news with the federal tax changes is that Iowans are going to be paying a lot less into Washington than they've had to pay in the past," he said. "The question though is then how does Iowa react to that."
Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he expected his committee, in consultation with the Senate and governor, would begin discussing plans for a comprehensive tax reform package for Iowa. He noted the numbers of still very preliminary and couched in agency disclaimers pending more analysis.
"It's pretty early," he said. "I think we still don't know enough to be able to say, yeah, absolutely, we've got this all figured out. It's going to be an interesting process,"
Vander Linden noted the higher state tax collections were more than he expected, but the overall federal cut for Iowans seemed too high.
"But again, this is very, very preliminary so I don't want to bet the ranch on these numbers," he said.
Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, ranking member of the House Ways & Means Committee, said more accurate tax data is needed before policy changes are made, but Democrats believe any tax changes or reforms considered this year must keep the state budget balanced, be fair and simple for all Iowans, and provide relief for the middle class.
"Democrats will not support a tax plan that simply mirrors the new federal law and rewards corporations and the wealthy at the expense of Iowa families," he said.
"Even with the new data provided today by the Department of Revenue, the state budget is still in deficit, and it isn't even enough to pay back the money Republicans put on the state's credit card last year," Jacoby added.
Tom Sands, a former GOP legislator who now leads the Iowa Taxpayers Association, said the good news from Friday's numbers that once the federal and state tax issues shake out, most Iowans are going to pay less income tax. Also, the federal changes put Iowa in the rare position of being able to make major reforms to a tax system that is complicated and has uncompetitive individual and corporate income tax rates.
"I think this is a great opportunity that has been handed to us, and we need to capitalize on it and let policy dictate the direction we go and not politics," Sands said.
"This gives us the opportunity to do some true reform here in Iowa. We shouldn't be so tied with our federal deductibility to every decision the federal government makes - whether it's up or down or positive or negative," he added. "We are fine with the elimination of federal deductibility as long as it's offset by a true rate reduction and is not just a revenue grab. We would be fine with that."