Links on the Iowa legislature's opening day

The Iowa Legislature’s 2010 session opened today. I posted links to previews of hot topics for lawmakers in this thread, but after the jump I’ve posted some fresh items and excerpts for you to read.

Democratic leaders promised to restructure state government and balance the 2011 budget. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal’s opening remarks are here. Excerpt:

The good news for Iowa taxpayers is that State law requires our budget to be balanced. Let there be no doubt: We will have a balanced state budget when we adjourn by March 31st.

Thanks to Governor Culver’s 10 percent across the board cut last fall, this year’s budget is under control. Our primary task during this session is to write a balanced budget for next year.

And that is what we will do. We will balance the budget, and we will do it WITHOUT raising taxes. We will not add to the burdens of middle class families by raising taxes during a recession.

To get the job done, we will have to cut almost every service provided by state government.

At the same time, we will reorganize state government for the first time in more than 25 years. By consolidating agencies and delivering services to Iowans more efficiently, we will eliminate wasteful spending and create more accountability for taxpayers.

We’ve already cut on-going expenses by more than $75 million. We will implement millions in savings during this session.

The State Government Reorganization Commission is leading the way by focusing on finding solutions, not scoring political points. The recommendations they approved with a bipartisan, unanimous vote will be the basis of our reform work this year.

Please join me in thanking the commission’s chair Senator Appel and our colleagues who were members: Senator Danielson, Senator Feenstra, Senator Hammerlink and Senator Warnstadt.

Senate President Jack Kibbie struck a similar tone:

This budget crisis offers us the opportunity to look for efficiencies in the way we do the state’s business. The old saying that we must do more with less has never been truer. As the lower revenue figures came in, I was encouraged by the quantity and quality of ideas that were proposed by members of both parties, in both chambers. Those ideas provide us with starting points for the members of our budget subcommittees as they begin deliberations on the FY 2011 budget.

I know we always say that we should work together to choose our priorities and distribute the pain equitably, and I remain hopeful that can move above the politics of these decisions and make choices without finger pointing or efforts to score points with some constituency.

All of us will be contacted by our constituents and interest groups who want us to save some program or spend money we don’t have. I have heard many in my district who have compelling stories, but we must convey to all that no means no. Our job is easy when we can say “yes” but is much more difficult when we are required to say “no”. Unfortunately, these are uncommon times and our constituents have elected us to make the tough decisions and we cannot step back from those responsibilities.

We have a very short window this year as we have determined this will be an 80 day session. We will have only 2 months to make our budget decisions and no one believes the job will be easy. I am hopeful we can ensure that we don’t go backward on our commitments to educate our children; that we retain the social safety net for those Iowa families in the most need; that we do the best we can to promote economic growth; and that we can leave this session with the sense that we did the best for our citizens.

By the way, am I the only one who’s skeptical that the legislature will adjourn by the end of March? If lawmakers stick to that schedule, it would be the shortest regular Iowa legislative session since 1972. I have a feeling the budget won’t be finalized before April.

I enjoyed Todd Dorman’s “unofficial timeline” of the upcoming session, including:

Feb. 2 – Marriage equity opponents try to force a vote on a same-sex marriage ban using a Gronstal look-alike. His cover is blown when he cracks a joke that’s actually funny.

Feb. 11 – Debate on legislative ethics reforms postponed until after Iowa Buffet Association reception.

Anyway, back to today’s speeches. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy mentioned some good news as well as the budget crunch:

There is good news. In Iowa we are better prepared to meet this challenge than almost any other state in the nation. We hear a lot about massive deficits in our nation’s Capitol. In Iowa, we have no deficit. We balance our budget. Indeed, the budget we are in, right now, at 5.2 billion dollars, is less than the budget we inherited three years ago at 5.3 billion dollars. In Washington, we hear a lot about massive debt. In Iowa, we have no structural debt and our level of bonding for infrastructure is the 47th lowest in the country. Unlike almost every other state in the country, Iowa has a surplus to the tune of over a half billion dollars, including our cash reserves and our ending balance. Housing starts last quarter were up 39%. Our unemployment rate has remained steady for the past three months and is one of the lowest in the country. Holiday consumption was up and personal income is expected to rise. Economists believe we have reached a stabilization period and that a recovery is on the horizon. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this recovery will not likely assist us with our work this legislative session as we begin to craft the fiscal year 2011 budget. It will be challenging, but we will get the job done. We will balance the budget and we will do so without raising taxes. We should also try doing it in a bi-partisan way.

House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen and Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley weren’t in a very bipartisan mood, which isn’t too surprising.

I’ll update this post later with more links on the day’s events. Meanwhile, any comments about the upcoming session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: I forgot to link to House Speaker Pat Murphy’s opening speech. Although he warned that this year’s session would be “one of the toughest sessions probably in the last 75 years,” he emphasized that Iowa is weathering the recession relatively well:

Our vision is beginning to pay off. While the national economy was last week reported that we had a zero economic growth for the last decade, Iowa bucked that trend and created 28,000 jobs during that 10 year period for about a 2% gain. We need to continue that focus this session. Iowa’s one of just four states, to record a positive economic growth last year according to the Nonpartisan Economic Index. Iowa’s unemployment rate has held steady while most other states continue to rise.

We also need to continue our efforts from last year when Iowa was the first state in the nation to pass the unemployment extension act that the federal government passed and Representative Ford floor-managed. There is also a 30% increase in private workers rebuilding roads and bridges, according to a study done by the DOT this year. Primarily due to the fact that we very quickly and accepted the federal ARRA funds, which was the jobs act to help put people back to work. […]

Our record of fiscal responsibility tops the nation. We still have a triple A bond rating. The independent nonpartisan Pew Center ranked Iowa as the second best managed state in the nation. We still have 419 million dollars in our reserve accounts, one of the few states that still does. We have federal ARRA funds that are still available most states have spent all of theirs. And the general fund expenditures this year will be less than it was three years ago. From 5.4 billion in 2007 down to 5.2 billion in 2010.

Murphy also indicated where Democrats’ spending priorities will lay:

We need to continue building a solid foundation for a stronger Iowa. Helping Iowans get the education they need and the skills to land a good paying job. There’s no question that we are probably going to cut every portion of government this year, but we really need to keep our focus, on guaranteeing that our children get the education they need like my granddaughter who did the pledge of allegiance this morning. And to make sure those people who have to retool because they’ve lost their job or they’ve been laid off get the new skills they need through higher education. We need to keep targeting job creation efforts in key industries and to land companies like Google and IBM. We’ve been on the front end of that and they are recognizing Iowa as a leader.

We need to continue upgrading our infrastructure and investing in the renewable energy economy and improving energy efficiency and energy utilization through the Iowa Power Fund and we’ll be doing bills that will do that this year. We also need to help Iowans rebuild from the devastating storms of 2008. We made a lot of progress last year, but we need to continue to focus for those communities to rebuild and for people to have economic opportunities.

There is no question, we are asking middle class families to tighten their belts during tough economic times.  That’s why we need to make sure that when we look at tax credits this year.  That they are totally transparent, that people get to see who’s getting what, and there is no question that Iowans will expect us to very closely look at corporate tax credits and other tax credits. Do they create jobs? Do they create economic opportunities for our communities? And if they don’t, then we need to deal with that. But again I think we need to push for more transparency to make sure that that occurs.

Some corporate interests will fight hard to prevent total transparency regarding the tax credits individual businesses receive. The tax credit overhaul will be one of the major battles of the session.

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