Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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June 29, 2012

Sullivan’s Salvos 7/3/12 In this edition: *Happy Independence Day! *Affordable Care Act *More on SCOTUS *Tax Abatement for Agudas Achim *Did You Know? *Happy Independence Day! Happy Independence Day to you all! We are lucky to live where we do – I hope you take some time to reflect on the great experiment that is the United States of America! Meanwhile, you have a holiday - enjoy it! *Affordable Care Act Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you know that the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Affordable Care Act was Constitutional. I am a bit of a SCOTUS geek. I love Nina Totenberg, and love reading the decisions of the Court. But this is not about the interests of political junkies. This is about the 50 million Americans who are uninsured. We live in the wealthiest country in the world. The fact that 50 million people are uninsured is unconscionable! I sincerely hope that this law helps those 50 million people. I think it will. *More on SCOTUS While I am certainly pleased that Chief Justice John Roberts joined the 4 more liberal Justices in allowing the Affordable Care Act to stand, I want to caution my more liberal friends: Roberts is hardly a progressive hero. He is the 5th most conservative Justice to serve on the Supreme Court since 1937! I found the following article a while ago: In "Rational Judicial Behavior: A Statistical Study," Posner and Landes use a database that includes the political background and voting records of the past 70 years of Supreme Court justices—who appointed each justice and how the justices decided every case—to come up with a ranking, from most conservative to least conservative, of the 43 justices who have served on the court since 1937. Their conclusion: Four of the five most conservative justices to serve on the Supreme Court since Franklin Roosevelt are currently sitting on the bench today. Justice Clarence Thomas is number one, while Antonin Scalia is number two. Samuel Alito ranks, number four, while Chief Justice Roberts comes in at number 5. Anthony Kennedy, another current Republican appointee, is ranked No. 10. “ While I recognize that this is inexact science, my issues have nothing to do with the conservatism of any given judge. My problem stems from the lack of ideological purity. Take free speech, for example. I respect any Justice who is a free speech absolutist. Similarly, I respect Justices who believe there can be limits to free speech. That said, how can Thomas, Scalia, and Alito vote to uphold Citizens United as free speech, then turn around and claim that it is OK to make falsely claiming to have won military honors a crime? They just did so! Where is the consistency? Similarly, how can Thomas and Scalia vote consistently for state’s rights in every case EXCEPT Bush v. Gore? Where is the consistency? Again, I have no problem with people holding ideologies different from my own. Just be consistent rather than political. Thomas and Scalia have failed the test of consistency time and time again. That is why they are not only the two most conservative Justices – they are also the two worst Justices in the history of the Court. In my opinion, this may have been what persuaded Roberts. After all, it is known as the “Roberts Court” after its Chief Justice. This Court was already looking like one of the most political, most activist, least judicious Courts in our history. I think Roberts was beginning to worry about his personal legacy. Court watching is quite interesting! What are your thoughts? *Tax Abatement For Agudas Achim Agudas Achim Synagogue recently requested and received a tax abatement for a property they purchased in Coralville. The issue of tax abatements comes up a few times each year. Requests from religious institutions are rare, but according to the County Assessor, there have been a couple in recent years. In each instance, the Assessor has informed the buyers that the Board of Supervisors has not granted abatements in these cases. The religious institutions have accepted that response rather than appeal to the Board. That does not mean an appeal is wrong; it simply has not happened. All these churches have paid taxes under similar circumstances. Giving the Synagogue special consideration would be discriminatory to those we haven't abated previously. While the Iowa Code has several provisions allowing abatements, properties are not automatically exempt. An exemption also has to be applied for in a timely fashion. The code is very specific on these rules. The Synagogue's attorney signed a purchase agreement that said "a portion of the taxes due may be abated." Obviously, I feel the word “may” is important here; I have never voted for an abatement of any kind. I want to explain my reasoning. To begin, I want to emphasize the retroactive nature of the property tax system in Iowa. This means that the taxes you pay are for services already provided by the local governments. The Iowa City Community School District, the City of Coralville, and Johnson County already have this money in their budgets; it may well even be spent. The issue of who will pay these back taxes is negotiated at every real estate closing. It is simply a part of doing business in Iowa. The Synagogue will clearly be tax exempt going forward, but someone still owes taxes. As the buyer, the Synagogue is responsible. Any financial agreement between the buyer and seller should have taken this into account. When I bought my house, I paid the taxes on it for a time period in which I was not living there. Odds are you did, too. That is how it works in Iowa. The Board has received other requests, in some cases from friends and neighbors I respect deeply. The easy thing to do would be to give in to the pressure and approve the abatements. But that would be neither fair nor consistent. Supervisors vote to abate taxes all the time. It is politically expedient. A voter leaves your office happy. That does not make it right, of course. We have had several 3-2 votes on abatements over the years. Collectively, however, the Board had not abated taxes in my 8 years prior to Thursday. For some, this brought up issues of church and state. Because the majority of the Board had been consistent on the issue, I disagree. I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, and I am well aware of the past and current struggles for religious freedom. Trust me, a politically expedient vote does not somehow signify that a given Supervisor is some champion of the Jewish people! I couldn’t even get everyone to refer to it as a Synagogue rather than a church! I am not convinced every Board member could explain the difference. Again, before this past Thursday, the Board had not granted any abatement since I was elected in 2004. We have had several 3-2 votes, but we never abated taxes. Frankly, I was proud of this fact, as I believed we had been very consistent. I am very proud of my record. I have never voted to abate taxes for anyone, for any reason. You cannot get more consistent than that. *DID YOU KNOW? Former Iowa City Mayor Moses Bloom (1833-1893) was the first Jewish Mayor of any major American city. Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website- "Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents. These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned. If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line. If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at with "subscribe" in the subject line. As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you! ---Rod


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