Common Good Iowa

Capitol Notes: Legislative session is upon us

Posted on January 16, 2021 at 4:26 PM by Anne Discher

Welcome to our first update of the 2021 legislative session. 

Governor Kim Reynolds opened her Condition of the State address this week with a long list of examples of individuals and businesses giving valuable help in their communities in tough times. Voluntary initiatives are deeply reflective of Iowa values and worthy of note. But the Governor missed a chance to spotlight another way we came together during a drought, a derecho, a pandemic and economic crisis — through the public policies and services we all support.

Although imperfect, public supports have played a critical role in helping Iowans get by despite the serious challenges we face. Expanded unemployment insurance helped people who were laid off or let go from their jobs pay the bills, federal payroll loans helped businesses keep employees on the payroll, SNAP helped Iowa families put food on the table and Medicaid and CHIP helped keep families covered. Acknowledging the efficacy of efforts like these allows a complete view of how to best move forward — to get Iowans vaccinated and back to work and school and our economy humming.

Now, about her policy proposals

We were happy to see her propose more resources for our state’s children’s and adult mental health systems and affordable housing and prioritize child care. If inadequate in scale, her proposals in these areas are still a good start to help Iowans keep a roof over their heads, enter and stay in the workforce and meet their families’ needs.

Happily, the governor also chose not to revive her tax swap plan that would increase the sales tax in exchange for more unaffordable income-tax and property-tax cuts. But she said not a word Tuesday about the priorities for which many have promoted the sales tax: water quality and outdoor recreation. Both of those remain unmet challenges no less important today than they were in 2010, when voters passed a constitutional amendment to prioritize them.

The Governor made several other proposals worth noting because of the damage they will cause over time

On taxes, she wants to accelerate income-tax cuts that will force general fund reductions of $400 million or more within a few years. Iowa cannot afford to make those cuts and still meet the needs of Iowans that already have been shortchanged by self-imposed austerity.

She also called for fundamental reordering, if not a reversal, of the traditional role of the state in assuring opportunity for every Iowan — supporting strong public schools. She proposed a voucher system that will divert millions of state dollars and, depending on its structure, potentially property tax dollars from local school districts to private schools. Private schools are unavailable to many Iowa students and simply not the responsibility of public taxpayers in any case. She also called for more charter schools and an open-enrollment expansion that are likely to damage local public schools and promote greater racial segregation.

We are already responding to the Governor's proposals and promoting other policies to advance opportunity for all Iowans. You can read our legislative agenda here. Look more more updates and analysis from us in the weeks ahead.

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