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Reynolds Proposes Broadband Funding, Tax Cuts, In-Person Learning In Condition Of The State Address

Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered her 2021 Condition of the State Address to the Iowa Legislature on Jan. 12, 2021.
Bryon Houlgrave
Des Moines Register (Pool)
Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered her 2021 Condition of the State Address to the Iowa Legislature on Tuesday evening.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered her fourth Condition of the State address Tuesday evening in the wake of civil unrest and the derecho, and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. She is asking lawmakers to make a major investment in broadband expansion, implement tax cuts sooner, and require all schools to offer fully in-person learning during the pandemic.

Reynolds, a Republican, started her speech by acknowledging the challenges of the past year.

“We’ve been beaten and battered in about every way imaginable and some unimaginable,” she said.

Condition of the State 2021

Speaking in the Iowa House of Representatives to a much smaller group than is typical for this event, Reynolds said Iowans have met every challenge with bravery and grit.

"And despite what we’ve been through—or maybe because of it—the condition of our state has never been stronger,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds talked about essential workers and individual Iowans who have helped throughout the pandemic, and asked lawmakers to join her in thanking health care workers. She also praised those who helped in the aftermath of the August derecho.

“What happened this year went beyond Iowa nice," she said. "You showed a humanity that rivals what most of us have seen in our lifetime.”

Reynolds said Iowans must hold on to that humanity, as many Iowans are still hurting. She asked everyone to take a moment to remember those who died of COVID-19 and other causes.

More than 4,200 Iowans have died of the virus, and Iowa ranks 16th in the country in total per capita COVID-19 deaths, according to the New York Times.

Then Reynolds turned to discussing Iowa’s economy, and said it is coming back strong.

"Because of conservative budgeting, Iowa’s diverse economy, and the decision to keep over 80 percent of our businesses open, and because of the tenacity of our people, Iowa isn’t facing a massive budget shortfall like many states," Reynolds said.

Iowa’s state revenue is in a better position than most other states. But state revenue forecasters acknowledge Iowa's economy is also being partly propped up by federal stimulus money, and Reynolds has kept businesses open with few restrictions even when infectious disease experts don’t think it’s safe.

Reynolds said the pandemic has shown that high-speed internet is as important to communities as water and electricity. She is proposing a major investment of $150 million in each of the next three years for broadband expansion.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, did not promise that Republican lawmakers will agree to spend that amount.

"We have kept conservative budgeting practices for the last four years," Whitver said. "We’re going to continue to do that. But certainly we know there has to be an investment in broadband.”

Reynolds also proposed removing the revenue growth thresholds from the sweeping tax changes passed in 2018, calling them “unnecessary.” This means the next round of income tax cuts would kick in in January 2023, regardless of how much revenue the state expects to bring in.

Whitver said he fully supports this move. But House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, did not commit to removing the triggers.

“We want to continue to look for opportunities," Grassley said. "But again, that was something that has been very important to our [House Republican] caucus, and when the tax bill was passed, that was one of the pieces of it.”

"I was stunned to learn of the governor's top proposal on the economy being another tax cut for the rich and wealthy," said Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville. "We need help for frontline health care workers and other essential workers, and not another giveaway to the rich and powerful."

Reynolds called on lawmakers to send her a bill immediately that would require schools to provide the option of 100 percent in-person learning during the pandemic, something GOP House and Senate leaders support. She said kids can’t wait any longer.

“I visited with the parent of a child with special needs who is devastated by seeing her daughter’s education and social progress fade because a computer screen isn’t a substitute," Reynolds said. "I spoke to a middle school student who has to watch her younger siblings during the day and complete her own school work at night.”

Coronavirus test positivity rates remain very high throughout the state. Reynolds has already required schools to offer majority in-person learning unless they get permission from the state to go fully online. But she hasn’t mandated masks in schools.

Democratic leaders said this one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t be safe for some districts, as they all have different challenges with the pandemic.

“To say across the board, 'This is what we’re going to require,' without looking at public health guidelines, ignoring CDC guidelines and recommendations, and just saying, 'This is what it’s going to be,' is not a responsible decision and is another example of failed leadership regarding this pandemic," said House Minority Whip Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.

Reynolds is proposing a bill to enhance penalties for assaulting police officers and ban racial profiling. Leaders from both parties said they are open to this idea.

Reynolds also said she wants to spend $15 million on adult and children’s mental health services in each of the next two years. And she called on lawmakers to work on child care access, workforce initiatives and affordable housing.

Click here to read the governor's full budget and policy proposals.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter