Gronstal and Kibbie set the tone on the Iowa Senate's opening day

The Iowa Legislature opened its 2009 session today, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal let the members of the upper chamber know that he has “never seen such a tough situation” with the state budget and economy in his 26 years at the statehouse.

In his opening address the the Iowa Senate, Gronstal listed some of the biggest challenges facing legislators, in particular rebuilding communities damages by last year’s natural disasters and leading Iowa “through these tough times without sabotaging the commitments we’ve made on economic growth, health care and education.”

He warned that a lot of legislators won’t get what they want this year:

Our resources are limited.  We will say “no” to many good ideas.  We are going to disappoint some people and frustrate others.

If your idea of being an elected official involves being loved by everyone, the next few months will be pretty rough.

Gronstal also noted that bipartisan majorities approved many key policies in Iowa during the past few years, and called for finding “bipartisan solutions” to this year’s challenges.

In his opening address to the chamber, Senate President Jack Kibbie echoed Gronstal’s warning that leaders will be saying “no” to a lot of requests from legislators.

He also advocated some policies that are anything but bipartisan: a gas tax hike and the expansion of workers’ bargaining rights.

Kibbie said increasing the gas tax would create jobs and boost economic development:

First, we can no longer put off the challenges to our transportation infrastructure. It is vital that we begin to clear the backlog of projects that play a  significant role in future economic development. In my district my constituents, Republicans and Democrats, all tell me that we need to get to work and if the only impediment to that progress is money they are willing to pay a few more cents at the pump. I support efforts that result in a gas tax increase. Success in that endeavor will mean better roads, jobs, and an economic boost to Iowa’s families and communities.

I’ve supported a gas tax increase since John Anderson proposed it during his 1980 presidential campaign, but I don’t expect that measure to get through the legislature without a bruising battle.

Here’s a piece listing the many potential benefits of a federal gas tax increase. Kibbie is talking about a smaller increase in the state gas tax, but many of the same benefits would apply.

Kibbie also said Iowa workers need good wages, and therefore “we should not fear passing Legislation that help[s] workers bargain for a better future.”

Kibbie could be referring to the “fair share” bill that Democrats didn’t have to votes to get through the Iowa House in 2007, or to the collective bargaining bill that Governor Chet Culver vetoed last spring. Either way, Republicans and corporate interest groups will put up a fight.

Getting labor legislation through the Iowa House, where Democrats have a 56-44 majority, is likely to be more difficult than getting it through the Iowa Senate, where Democrats have a 32-18 majority.

The complete texts of the opening statements by Gronstal and Kibbie (as prepared) are after the jump.

Iowa Senate News Release

For Immediate Release:  January 12, 2009

Contact: Sen. Mike Gronstal, 515-281-3901

Opening statement from

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal

“Thank you Mr. President.

“This session will be a challenge.

“While Iowa’s economy and our state budget are in far better financial shape than those of most states, the state of the nation’s economy is not good and it is not getting better.

“We Iowans had little to do with the mismanagement, greed, and financial carelessness that have put the U.S. in what is generally agreed to be the worst economic situation since the Great Depression.

“While we share little of the blame, we will continue to share the national pain.  Iowa families are losing the jobs they depend on.  Iowa small businesses are seeing sales fall.  Many Iowa homeowners are facing foreclosure. Iowans are wondering how bad things will get.

“Our greatest challenge, perhaps, is to lead our state through these tough times without sabotaging the commitments we’ve made on economic growth, health care and education.

“Perhaps our greatest challenge is to help our communities rebuild after last year’s floods and tornados devastated communities across Iowa .  Places like Cedar Rapids , the economic engine of eastern Iowa , and small towns like Parkersburg , Oakville and Waverly.

“We need to help Iowa communities rebuild their infrastructure.

“We need to help small businesses reestablish themselves.

“We need to help homeowners make decisions so they can move on with their lives.

“Addressing these challenges during a national recession won’t be easy.  In my 26 years in the Legislature, I’ve never seen such a tough situation.

“Our resources are limited.  We will say “no” to many good ideas.  We are going to disappoint some people and frustrate others.

“If your idea of being an elected official involves being loved by everyone, the next few months will be pretty rough.

“With that said, I guess now is the perfect time to welcome the new members of the Senate to the chamber.  

“Given what I’ve just said, you may be wondering if you made a mistake.

“Well, you most assuredly did not.  Here’s why.

“While our state’s economy is struggling right now, I’m certain these hard times won’t last.  And when things begin to brighten, it will be easier for everyone to see that Iowa ‘s renewable energy economy is a shining example of where the world economy is headed.

“The shift away from fossil fuels is going to be the big story of this century.  Limited supplies, increasing costs, foreign entanglements and global warning mean that the world’s economies must move away from fossil fuels.

“You can argue about how quickly this fundamental change will occur but you can’t claim that it won’t happen.

“Here in Iowa , we are at the epicenter of the change the world is looking for.

” Iowa consumes about 1.6 billion gallons of fuel a year.  A decade ago, almost all of that fuel was imported, much of it from unstable countries.  Today, Iowa PRODUCES over three billion gallons of fuel a year.

“And Iowa ‘s bio-fuel industry and researchers at our universities are hard at work developing new ways to create fuel, including cellulosic ethanol.

” Iowa is the nation’s leader in wind energy production on a per capita basis.  Hundreds of wind turbines are being built.  Graduates from the wind technology center at Iowa Lakes Community College have their pick of jobs from around the world.

“By the year 2010, as much as 18 percent of the electricity used in Iowa will come from wind energy.   Compare that to the much talked about 20/25 proposals by other states, state which aim to reach 20% renewable energy consumption by the year 2025.

“We are years ahead of every other state in the union.  President-elect Obama says he wants the United States to be energy independent in 10 years.  Iowa is leading the way.  No wonder he chose Governor Tom Vilsack to be the new Secretary of Agriculture.

“I think all Iowans – whether Republicans or Democrats – will agree that President-elect Obama made a great choice in Tom Vilsack – our former Senate colleague – to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Yes, the national economic mess is a very big speed bump on our road forward but there is no doubt that Iowa’s long-term future is bright, perhaps brighter than it has ever been

“And so, I say today to you newly elected Senators, with all sincerity: “Welcome to the Iowa Senate!”

“Here in the Senate, we pride ourselves on working together, on listening to each other, on respecting each other’s ideas, and finding bipartisan solutions.

“Yes, the media like it when we fight.  And yes, our partisan supporters on both sides of the political aisle helped you and us run spirited campaigns last fall.

“We know that campaigns are about identifying differences.  But the trick to governing well is to set aside the differences of the campaigns and  focus on the common ground.

“I have yet to meet anyone who put forth the sort of effort you did to be elected simply to engage in partisan fights.

“Don’t let partisan passions lead you to forget that the Senate’s biggest accomplishments – the ones we’re most proud of-are usually overwhelmingly bipartisan.

“The legislation that made Iowa the world leader in renewable energy was bipartisan legislation.  The Iowa Power Fund and the earlier energy legislation were approved by large majorities composed of Democrats and Republicans.

“Last session’s votes on children’s health care, on the TIME21 transportation package, and the statewide school penny were all bipartisan.

“You are here because you want to move Iowa forward.

“You are here to help solve the problems your constituents face.

“Your constituents believe are no such things as Republican ideas and Democratic ideas.

“We need your ideas and your voice, regardless of party.  Please remember that my door is always open to you.”

— end —

Iowa Senate News Release

For Immediate Release:  January 12, 2009

Contact: Sen. Jack Kibbie, 515-281-5933

Opening statement from

Senate President Jack Kibbie

           Good morning. I would like to welcome you all to opening day of the First Session of the 83rd General Assembly.

         We welcome nine new members to the Senate who have been sent by their constituents at a difficult economic time in our nation’s and state’s history. We need your best effort as we face a session where our primary responsibility will be to craft a balanced budget and position our selves for a brighter future.

         As Senator Gronstal, Speaker Murphy and I told the press last week, the word that will be most often said is “no”. While we all will work to protect our priorities, we need to focus on those things that help us look to the future. In the near term the nation faces pain, but I am optimistic that the future for Iowa is bright. We have faced economic downturns before and always come out the other side as a stronger state. This time is no exception.

         While the budget for FY 2010 will be our major objective, there are a number of policy issues I hope we will address. First, we can no longer put off the challenges to our transportation infrastructure. It is vital that we begin to clear the backlog of projects that play a  significant role in future economic development. In my district my constituents, Republicans and Democrats, all tell me that we need to get to work and if the only impediment to that progress is money they are willing to pay a few more cents at the pump. I support efforts that result in a gas tax increase. Success in that endeavor will mean better roads, jobs, and an economic boost to Iowa’s families and communities.

While there may be funds for these efforts as part of the federal economic recovery package, we also need to act. It’s time to declare war on the potholes and put people to work.

         Second, we should not be afraid to address economic issues that benefit Iowa’s working families. We need to always be aware of the value of the labor performed every day in every part of our state.

Policies that enhance the economic security of workers make us stronger. Iowa’s workers need jobs with good wages. Everyday I see workers leaving the state because of low wages. We cannot afford to export the talent and value those workers provide and we should not fear passing Legislation that help workers bargain for a better future.

         Third, we must have higher expectations for our young people. We cannot continue to have so many young Iowans leave high school without graduating. Without education, these Iowans face an uncertain economic future. We need serious discussions about raising the dropout age. We must have a greater sense of responsibility to our students and greater focus on making school preparation for life.

Skills, vocational training, and a commitment to lifelong learning should be the hallmarks of our educational system and we must do all we can to make schools relevant to those students who see no value. They are resources and we need to keep them involved and interested. At the front end, we need to fulfill our commitment to our pre-school initiative. It will pay long term dividends.

         Lastly, on a more personal note, over 20 years ago legislators came to Des Moines and saw the long term neglect of one of Iowa ‘s premier resources, our State Capitol. They made a multi year, multi million dollar commitment to long term restoration of this unique and beautiful building. During the 2008 interim, restoration of the President of the Senate’s Office was completed. While I occupy this office, it is not mine. It belongs to the institution and the people of Iowa .

I invite you all to stop in and see the transformation. I would especially like to recognize the work of Dick Labertew and Mark Lundberg who are the restoration painters who work for the Legislature. They did an outstanding job. I would invite you to stop by the office and see the results.

          In conclusion, as we begin this difficult session, I look forward to working with you all and to a successful year. We have many challenges but they present us with unique opportunities as well.

Let’s get to work.

Thank you.    

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