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Top Democrat in Iowa House says workforce solutions are number one priority for 2022

061521-jennifer-konfrst
Courtesy of Iowa House Democrats
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House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst says her number one priority for the upcoming legislative session is addressing the state’s workforce shortage.

The top Democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives says her number one priority for the upcoming legislative session is addressing the state’s workforce shortage.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said that should include increasing education funding and making more affordable housing and child care available.

“We don’t see workforce as something that can get fixed with one piece of policy,” Konfrst said Tuesday in an interview with IPR. “We think it’s about making sure that the state of Iowa is well prepared and positioned to accept as many people who want to move to our state as possible.”

Konfrst and other Democrats are attributing Iowa’s workforce shortage to Republican leaders’ policies over the past few years, even as the whole country is facing workforce problems.

“Iowa really has a lot to offer and could have a unique space in that workforce challenge if we took the bold steps needed to try to attract people here,” Konfrst said. “Instead, we’re talking about crazy social media conspiracies that are turning into legislation, that then make national headlines that then make people decide, ‘I don’t want to go live in that state where they’re talking about putting teachers in jail. This is not the kind of thing we need to be doing if we’re looking to attract workforce.”

She was referring to some Republican lawmakers’ recent push to enact criminal penalties for teachers who make books some lawmakers think are “obscene” available to students.

Konfrst said Republican-led efforts to fix the workforce shortage in recent years haven’t worked.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, responded in a recent interview to Democrats blaming Iowa Republican leaders for the state’s workforce shortage.

“Over the five years of our [GOP] trifecta, we had one of the lowest unemployment rates we’ve ever had in this state, our economy’s growing faster than it’s ever grown, our wages are going up faster than they ever have,” Whitver said. “And so we think Iowa is going in the right direction.”

These trends in unemployment and wages have followed those of the country as a whole.

As Republican leaders are saying their priority for the 2022 legislative session is to cut income taxes, Konfrst said House Democrats are working on their own proposal for tax changes.

“I think that when we do look at tax policy in the state of Iowa, it all needs to be focused on those middle class families who’ve been left out of previous tax cuts, right? Corporate tax cuts haven’t helped middle class families. Tax cuts on the rich haven’t helped middle class families,” Konfrst said. “If we’re going to talk tax cuts, let’s make sure it’s for the people who deserve them.”

Konfrst said eliminating the income tax, as some Republicans have proposed, would be “extreme” and would gut the state budget. About half the state budget comes from personal income tax revenue.

Republican and Democratic leaders have not yet released specific tax cut plans.

The 2022 legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 10.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter