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Gas Tax and Increased Funding for Water Quality Possible

John Pemble
Iowa Capitol on the opening day of the 2015 legislative session.

Legislative leaders agree a tight budget will sharpen the focus on priorities this session. Identifying those priorities may be the sticking point.

Clay Masters talked with Republican House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal on the opening day of the 2015 session.  With the Iowa House once again controlled by Republicans, and Democrats maintaining control of the Iowa Senate, compromise will be needed to accomplish anything.  But, there are areas of agreement.  Below are some of the issues that each leader identified as priorities in the coming months.

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer

Credit Photo by John Pemble
Representative Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake


Budget - One of the big priorities is to make sure we continue to have a responsible budget.  We’ve worked really hard to make sure that we’ve established some budgeting principles, that we don’t spend more than we take in, that we don’t use one-time money for ongoing expenditures, that we don’t intentionally underfund obligations just so we can balance the budget and pay for it at a later date. 

Broadband Expansion – There’s lots of agreement on what we want to do.  The how to do it is the tricky part.  We want to make sure we're not creating unintended consequences.  It’s hard when different business models, co-ops, independent telephone companies, different ways people access this resource. Trying to create incentives that are fair and equitable is a challenge.  At the end of the day, the market is doing this work.  If we can reduce barriers and be helpful, and not create winners and losers, I think you’re going to get a lot of support. 

Gas Tax Increase – This is as good a year as any.  I think that discussion will continue to take place and perhaps gain some energy.  The Governor is being more vocal about his support, but additionally other people are coming to the table.  People that have some good ideas are bringing those forward.  I’m feeling like there are some things that have changed this year, and perhaps that gives it a new opportunity. 

Water Quality – I think the [voluntary] strategies that we employed were wildly successful, and unfortunately some of that [funding] was vetoed last year. I think we would be very interested in taking another look at that. The voluntary programs are working really well. I think we just need to keep moving forward and engaging people in those programs.

Credit Photo by John Pemble
Senator Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal  

K-12 Education Funding - State law is designed to make us set state funding for local schools.  It’s designed to make us set that first.  That’s the first thing the state ought to think about, and that’s the first budget item.  After that, you make tough choices, and we make tough choices even when we have big surpluses.  You still have to make tough choices because there are lots of things that lots of people would like to have the state do.

Minimum Wage – What I would like to do is find some Republicans that are willing to partner on that issue.  Most of the states around us have a higher minimum wage than Iowa does.  Nebraska put it on the ballot and is passed last fall.  But we have not set out anything in particular.  I think we’d very much like to do something, but we recognize we’d need willing partners.

Water Quality – I certainly recognize that at some level there may need to be regulations.  We can’t even meet the voluntary demand for cost share. If we can’t, as a state, keep up with the voluntary demand of people who want to do things, moving to a regulatory approach is premature. Democrats and Republicans last year were disappointed with the Governor’s veto [of $22million dollars in funding].  I certainly think there will be an effort to do something over and above what we’re currently doing.

Gas Tax – I think a majority of our caucus is in favor of doing something on transportation infrastructure, but it’s not universal.  If this is going to get accomplished it has to be done in a broadly and deeply bipartisan way.  And I think there’s growing consensus, even among folks who have been reluctant, that our transportation infrastructure is a problem.  You can save a few cents at the gas pump, but if you have to realign your car twice a year, you’re not really saving money.  And it’s probably a good time to do it when fuel prices are relatively modest.

Medical Cannabis – I think it’ll certainly be considered in the Senate.  And this is something that requires cooperation as well.  People are very hesitant to do anything that is perceived as simply legalizing marijuana, so we’re not going to legalize marijuana.  But the law we passed last year doesn’t get to the place where these mothers can get it [canabidol] and use it with their kids.

Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk