Iowa's 2022 legislative session begins Monday. Lawmakers say they're focusing on taxes, workforce and education
Iowa’s 2022 legislative session begins on Monday. That’s when 150 elected officials from across the state will gather at the Statehouse in Des Moines for a few months to enact new state laws and decide how to spend the money Iowans pay in taxes.
This will be the sixth year in a row in which Republicans have full control of changing state laws and spending taxpayer dollars. These are some of the main issues Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said they’ll address this year:
More tax cuts
Republican leaders in the House and Senate say their top priority is to cut income taxes for individuals. They say revenue growth projections and Iowa’s record-breaking budget surplus are enough to justify deeper tax cuts this year, even as the tax cuts they approved last year don’t take effect until 2023. Some GOP lawmakers have even said they want to phase out the income tax entirely.
Gov. Kim Reynolds also wants to cut taxes, and she told reporters she will propose a tax cut plan early in the legislative session.
“We need to…be fiscally responsible in how we do it,” Reynolds said last week. “We need to make sure that we can maintain it. We have to watch our spending. But most importantly, we have to make sure that we can still fund priorities that are important to Iowans—public safety, education—and I think we’ve demonstrated that we can do that.”
Democratic leaders say they are working on their own tax cut plan focused on middle-class families.
Asked to define middle class in terms of income level, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said, “Generally speaking, I don’t think you’re going to see Democrats vote for a tax bill that’s going to lower taxes for millionaires, period.” Wahls has also said eliminating the income tax would be a “catastrophe” because it makes up about half of the state budget.
The workforce shortage
Republicans and Democrats agree there’s a workforce “crisis” underway, and that they need to work to fix it this legislative session. Leaders from both parties have said they want to improve access to child care and affordable housing, and they want to continue Reynolds’ Future Ready Iowa programs that are focused on educating Iowans to fill certain high-need jobs.
This year, Reynolds said changing the rules for unemployment benefits will be part of her plan to address workforce issues. New work search requirements took effect this week, but the governor has not said what additional changes she will ask the legislature to make.
“The unemployment code was written a long, long, long time ago when we were in a much different position,” Reynolds said. “And today, we need to incentivize work, not pay people to stay home.”
House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said unemployment benefits aren’t keeping people away from work.
“We need to look at the fact that if employers aren’t paying enough for people to pay child care, you know, pay their rent, pay for food, and people can’t afford to go back to work, then the problem is on the wage side, not the unemployment side,” Konfrst said.
Schools are also grappling with the workforce shortage, and Senate Education Committee Chair Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she’s working on a bill to help improve teacher and school staff retention.
But she said passing a “parents bill of rights” is her top priority.
“Parents have the right to know what their kids are being taught,” Sinclair said. “Parents have the right to access curriculum materials. Parents have the right to make those decisions as far as how and when their child might learn about whatever given issue.”
Sinclair said parents should have the opportunity to deny students’ access to school library books they find inappropriate. According to a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Education, local school boards determine policies for parents to review and challenge school materials.
Democratic leaders said they also want to focus on alleviating school staff shortages.
“I would say, however, that many of the ideas that have been tossed around don’t make it easier to get teachers in the classroom,” Konfrst said. “Threatening to put them in jail, for example, charging felonies for books, and also talking about removing books.”
Two other prominent state senators have called for criminal penalties for teachers who make “obscene” books available in schools.
Each legislative session features discussions of funding for Iowa’s public K-12 schools, community colleges and public universities. Reynolds said she will make another push this year for state-funded voucher-style scholarships for kids to go to private schools.