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Legislature Adjourns; Conservatives Call Agenda “Historic”

iowa house of representatives
John Pemble/IPR
Iowa House of Representatives, May 5, 2018

The 2018 session of the Iowa legislature came to a close Saturday, creating a new record length for overtime sessions when one party controls the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office.  Lawmakers put the finishing touches on the state budget and approved what Republicans call the most significant tax reform in a generation.

The tax bill, with an eventual price tag of $2.8 billion, passed the House and Senate on strict party-line votes, the last bill to be approved. 

One of the bill’s principal architects, Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull), said your money belongs to you and not the government.

“If you work from 8:00 to 5:00 each day it means from 8:00 to 9:00 you're working for the government because that’s who gets the money,” Feenstra said. "From 9:00 to 10:00 you’re working for the government.”

Lower and middle income people will hardly pay taxes. -Sen. Randy Feenstra

Right away the bill cuts income taxes by an average of 10 percent.  

Eventually, the deductions taxpayers can claim will soar.

“Meaning lower and middle income people will hardly pay taxes because of this massive standard deduction,” Feenstra said.    

But those really big breaks will only occur if the economy also soars.    

“If you want to believe everything the floor manager just said about how wonderful this bill is that is before us, then you're also going to believe there's such a thing as pixie dust,” said Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque).

Democrats disputed the Republicans' characterization of the bill as benefiting the middle class, saying the biggest breaks go to the wealthiest. Some of them will see tax cuts of as much as $18,000.     

Sen. Feenstra defended that. 

“They have a tax liability of nearly a million dollars, so $18,000 isn't a very big cut,” Feenstra said.

"I'm hopeful that we'll see a much bluer Senate next session." Sen. Janet Petersen

Put another way, Democrats said, the money millionaires will get back from the tax bill will be more than the raise that public schools will get next year.     

Democrats also had a more basic complaint about the GOP-controlled two-year general assembly.  Republicans limited the time for debate on controversial bills, or by-passed Democratic amendments.

“In the past this was always called the nuclear option,” Jochum said,  “And it was an option that was seldom, if ever, used.”     

While the legislature made history with its fetal heartbeat abortion bill, another abortion bill that failed to advance in the Senate earlier was approved in the final days without vetting. 

“This is a piece of policy that did not even make it out of subcommittee that is being rammed through on a budget bill tonight,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines).  “It is once again another dangerous move for women.”

The bill prevents a woman from suing her doctor for not advising her of medical conditions that could lead her to choose an abortion.  

Still another anti-abortion measure did not get approved in the end.  That one would have cut off funding to Planned Parenthood for sex education classes.

The governor will now have 30 days to approve or veto all the pieces of a $7.4 billion dollar state budget. Democrats say the spending plan puts much of state government back at the levels of three years ago and essentially only undoes the damage from this year’s budget cuts.

Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer praised cooperation among Republicans in the House and Senate, in spite of the resignation earlier this year of Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix

“We’ve had distractions that perhaps I didn't anticipate when we started,” Upmeyer said.

Legislators go home now to campaign for fall elections.   

House Majority leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights) says the GOP has already delivered what voters asked for two years ago.

“The message the voters sent was clear,” Hagenow said. “They wanted smaller, smarter, more conservative government.”

"I'm hopeful that we'll see a much bluer senate next session," Petersen said.

Follow Joyce Russell on Twitter:    @russell_ipr