Minimum Wage Increase and Income Tax Cuts hoped for in 2014 Session
Host Clay Masters sits down with legislative leaders on opening day of the 2014 session, to discuss priorities. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, leads the only democratically-controlled chamber in Iowa's divided state government. Representative Linda Upmeyer is Majority Leader in the republican-controlled House. Each said lawmakers are not likely to tackle major issues this session, but also left open the possibility of taking up some big ideas. We've listed those ideas below.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs
Minimum Wage Increase - "The Governor signed an increase back in the 80's and the [House] Speaker voted for it the last time. I'm hopeful we can get something done this year. The last time [an increase was approved] it took almost a decade, and it's been 7 years."
Education - Says he wants more funding for preschool programs. "We passed a decent program a few years ago. I think we have to look at that." Also says expanding access would be helped by increasing funding for K-12 schools and passing that funding in a timely manner.
Taxes - "We're interested in looking at targeted tax cuts." He says increasing the child tax credit is a possibility or making the cost of child care deductible.
Medical Marijuana - He calls this a "tossup." He says there are some limited areas where it makes a lot of sense, but some other states have legalized medical marijuana too broadly and he doesn't think Iowa is ready to go down that road yet. He says it's unlikely anything passes this session.
E-cigarettes - He says legislation to ensure kids aren't getting hooked on e-cigarettes is likely.
Roads - Senator Gronstal says without leadership from the Governor, any option to fund infrastructure is unlikely, including an increase in the gas tax. Gronstal says "We need to make sure out of state interests pay more, not less," and says a fuel tax makes the most sense to ensure that happens.
Budget Surplus - "We need to continue to be careful. Job number 1 is to make sure to follow up with schools [funding] after education reform last year."
Environment - "I would like to see a significant commitment to water quality this year."
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake
Budget Surplus - "We want to make sure expenditures match revenues, not make bad budget decisions. Responsible budgeting first and foremost." She says "We've made several promises over the last couple of years with mental health reform and education reform that will impact new revenue. Then, I think there are opportunities to help the Regents to hold down tuition."
Tax Cuts - "It looks like there might be an opportunity for income tax cuts." Representative Upmeyer says they'll send a House proposal for a limited flat tax to the Senate to, "let the Senate take a look at the bill, amend it and add their ideas the same way we did property tax reform last year." She says an income tax cut would help people across the board because most small businesses are taxed as individuals through LLC's. But, they have to come to some kind of agreement early to have plenty of time to work out the details and get it done this session.
Minimum Wage Increase - "I don't know," but it's "appropriate from time to time to have that discussion." She says at least half of the House Republican caucus who were here for the last vote on an increased supported it, so she thinks there's support out there.
Roads - "We're devoting more dollars to roads this year than any time in the past." She says future years are the big concern and they'll "take the director's [of the DOT] ideas seriously."
Education - She says they'll start with the Governor's bullying prevention proposal and "see if we have the support for that." She says it stands a better chance this year with more parental engagement, which was missing in an unsuccessful plan last year.
Broadband Access - "I absolutely do think that's a great initiative. Areas where there isn't access to broadband won't be able to have as much opportunity."
Ethics - Representative Upmeyer says transparency is key to eliminating conflicts by lawmakers involved with national campaigns. "Members from both sides of the aisle have been involved in campaigns in the past. I think it's important that Iowans know that, and transparency seems to be the issue there."
Medical Marijuana - "I guess we'll see, but one of the things I've observed is that no state seems to have this completely figured out." She says she doesn't see anything moving quickly.
E-cigarettes - She says they'll be looking at access for minors
Education - "We believe it's important that students have more affordable tuition." Representative Upmeyer says they've asked all of the Regents Universities to take a hard look at how they do business and look for ways to be more effective and efficient and lower tuition without having funding back filled by the state. But she says "at the end of the day we do support them and it's important that we do it."