State lawmakers opened the 2017 legislative session this morning as Republicans took control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 20 years. As lawmakers were sworn in and official business began, River to River Host Ben Kieffer and Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell sat down with legislative leaders from both parties to discuss priorities.
Tax Cuts - In spite of a projected $100 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that ends in June, both Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer and Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix say they're hoping to approve tax cuts this session.
"We always look for that opportunity to put more tax dollars back in taxpayers' pockets," Upmeyer says. "We should at a minimum be able to look at simplifying our tax code."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix says he was a freshman lawmaker the last time a ten percent, across-the-board income tax cut was approved. Dix says Iowa should put in place a tax system that, "rewards hard work and those who want to make investments in our state." He says states that have moved towards a lower, simpler tax system have seen growth occur.
Collective Bargaining - "We need to take a solid look at everything we do in state government," says Dix. He would not be specific in describing what the Republican caucus may be looking at, with regards to reforming the laws that govern collective bargaining and union membership, but says legislative committees are looking at possible changes. Upmeyer also declined to be more specific, except to say that GOP leaders, "have been listening to Iowans and will continue to listen to Iowans."
Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg says he's urging citizens to be involved in this session to steer discussion away from what he calls "fake issues." The Cedar Rapids Democrat points to collective bargaining as one of those. "Collective bargaining has worked. It's not a problem," says Hogg.
Hogg also says allowing Iowans to access medical services and testing through Planned Parenthood is not a problem, and neither is voter fraud. "We want to encourage participation, not put up more government barriers to participation."
K-12 Education - Speaker Upmeyer says House lawmakers will likely look at ways to give schools more flexibility in spending dollars allocated by the state. Senator Dix says republicans in the Senate will try to approve funding levels in the first 30 days of the session. Dix also says proposals from the Iowa House to allow parents more choice in where their children attend school will likely get a friendlier reception in a republican-controlled Senate. He would not rule out so-called vouchers, which would allow parents to take per-pupil, state spending with them to a charter or private school.
House Minority Leader Mark Smith says many lawmakers elected in 2016 were vague in describing their support for K-12 schools, so uncertainty rules at this point in the session. He says lawmakers need to follow the law and meet the deadline for setting state funding levels.
Rep. Smith says House Democrats support rural Iowa, and that means supporting schools. "Anyone who knows anything about rural Iowa knows that when a school closes, that community dries up and blows away."