Exciting times for Iowa politics watchers: the state legislature's 2015 session began in Des Moines today. A tentative schedule for this year's work is available here (pdf). The last day lawmakers will receive per diem expenses is on May 1, but for the past four years of divided control between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, the session has always gone into overtime--sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. Bleeding Heartland previously posted details on the each chamber's majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing committees. Click here for who's who in the Iowa House, and here for who's who in the Iowa Senate.
Today legislative leaders from both parties pledged to work together. After the jump I've enclosed the full texts of opening day remarks. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for making Iowa's middle class the "focus of the 2015 session" by ensuring adequate education spending, fighting wage theft, and expanding worker training while keeping a balanced budget. He praised Governor Terry Branstad for agreeing to go back to setting K-12 school funding a year in advance, as is required by state law, but warned the governor not to make a partisan statement by proposing too little funding for education when he addresses the legislature tomorrow.
Echoing some of the priorities she named last year, Senate President Pam Jochum said building an economy that "works for everyone" means supporting families and especially children: "For too long, the well-being of children has been considered a woman's issue.' It is not just a 'woman's issue'. It is an American issue. It is an Iowan issue." Jochum urged lawmakers to expand access to education from pre-K through college, make "quality, affordable childcare" more available across the state, and boost an initiative to "detect and help prevent mental health and developmental problems among young children."
Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith said the top priorities for House Democrats are strengthening the middle class and re-vitalizing rural Iowa. In addition to expanding early childhood education and providing adequate funds for K-12 schools, Smith called for raising the minimum wage, though GOP leaders have shown no willingness to negotiate on that issue.
As has been true in recent years, top Iowa House and Senate Republicans focused on fiscal issues and mostly avoided social issues. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen challenged his colleagues "to ensure that government do less and do it better" when "others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs." He called for more tax cuts along the lines of a 2006 bipartisan agreement to eliminate the state tax on Social Security benefits. (Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project explained in a guest column for the Quad-City Times why that tax cut was passed "under false pretenses" and skewed Iowa's tax code "further to the benefit of the wealthy.") House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer emphasized the need to "craft a responsible budget." She singled out the Medicaid program for criticism, claiming growth in Medicaid spending is "not sustainable" and will threaten lawmakers' ability to invest in education, job training, infrastructure, and renewable energy. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix called on senators to "work together to rein in spending, make cuts and reduce the size of government and lift up all Iowans in the process by reducing their tax burdens."
None of the Republicans set a goal of undoing marriage equality, and only House Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl made passing reference to other top priorities for social conservatives when he said, "Let us work together to make Iowa the best place to live, where taxes are low, jobs are abundant, education is top of the line, innocent life is protected and Second Amendment rights are fully embraced."
Any comments about the legislative session are welcome in this thread. By the way, here's some trivia you may not know about Speaker Paulsen.
Opening remarks from Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (as prepared):
Friends, family, representatives - welcome to the 86th General Assembly.
I'd like to take a moment to recognize all of the family members in the chamber today, particularly my wife Cathy. Our families are our biggest supporters and make the most sacrifices in our service to Iowans. Thank you for your constant strength and encouragement.
I'd also like to recognize that as we convene today we are missing one of our own. Please keep Rep. Dwayne Alons' family in your prayers and let's remember his commitment to Iowans and the fervor in which he worked to move our state forward.
As we sit, joined together in the people's house, I'd like to issue a simple, straightforward challenge to you. While others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs - I challenge this General Assembly to ensure that government do less and do it better.
Government continues to meddle in Iowans' lives and seems incapable of doing even the smallest jobs correctly - today we must meet the challenge of stopping this intrusion. Just like you, I have been contacted by various interest groups, lobbyists and even government agencies regarding how much MORE money they need just to keep doing what they are currently doing. Do we ever stop to ask, do we really need government doing this activity? Government could do better if it wasn't trying to do too much. What if we asked government to do less but do it much better?
The revenue forecast says we will have an additional $200 million to spend in Fiscal Year 2016. If we cannot fund Iowans' priorities with an additional $200 million then that means two things: we have too many priorities and we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
Instead of more programs and endless expenses, let's ask government to do less. Let's instead create opportunities to make family life more affordable, upward mobility more likely and employment easier to find. We need to ensure the programs currently on the books are doing consequential things that improve Iowans' lives and are worth the taxpayers' investment.
Rep. Pettengill - you and your Rules committee have led the charge in removing barriers for Iowans' when it comes to the rulemaking process. I want to encourage you and your team to continue this vital work on behalf of the legislative branch, ensuring the intent of the laws we pass is followed and onerous rules that hamper growth in our state are identified and removed.
DO IT WELL
While we want government to do less, we also want it to do much better. We can all agree that one area government needs to do better is in the building of our new state prison. Not only has the opening of the prison been delayed for several months, there still is no move in date set. The taxpayers of Iowa paid for this new facility, it is up to us to oversee their money is being spent appropriately. Rep. Kaufmann - I'd like you and your Government Oversight committee to investigate this issue.
Four years ago, Iowa faced a $900 million budget shortfall. Now as the 2015 session begins, Iowa is spending just 94 percent of what our outdated expenditure limitation law allows, our budget reserves remain full and the ending balance is over $700 million.
Iowans work hard to earn their money, so they, not us, can invest it for retirement, spend it on necessities and save it for priorities that they deem important. Let's make sure government operates well in what we've asked it to do. Rep. Soderberg - your appropriations committee has done diligent work in the past to spend tax dollars wisely. I'd like you to once again ensure budgets passed in the House stay true to these four principles. The budget must:
Not spend more money than the state takes in.
Not use one-time money to pay for on-going expenses.
Not intentionally underfund entitlement programs to balance the state's budget.
Return unused tax dollars to Iowa's taxpayers.
I believe one area that government has been making a significant difference for Iowans is in the Skilled Worker Initiative. When we look back 10 years from now, I believe we will recognize that effort as one of the most consequential things we have done to improve the lives of Iowans. Rep. Hanusa and Rep. Jorgensen- please continue the work in your committees to allow Iowans to obtain the skills needed in order to make that upward mobility possible and for families to prosper.
I am hopeful that once again we can find resolution on leaving more money back in the hardworking Iowa taxpayers' pocketbooks. Not only have we begun to return money back to the Iowa taxpayer through the Taxpayer Trust Fund, as of January 1st, Iowa no longer taxes the social security benefits of our citizens.
You see, back in 2006, a Republican House, a split-control Senate and Democratic governor came together to enact a plan that eliminated the state tax on social security. It was overwhelmingly bipartisan and is proof that when we commit to working on lowering the taxpayers' burden we can have a significant effect. We can give Iowans more financial security and the sky will not come crashing down. Rep. Sands - I'd like you to continue your efforts in finding pragmatic ways to let Iowans keep more of their hard-earned tax dollars.
Over the course of the 2014 elections it became clear that trust in large institutions, like government, was not just waning, it was plummeting. Like most Americans, Iowans believed their state and local governments functioned better than those in Washington, DC.
How do we live up to those expectations?
First, if we are truly going to be different then we need to act differently. Passing one more government program without examining the multitude of programs which already exist is more of the same. Passing another tax credit without examining the millions of dollars already invested in tax credits is more of the same. Putting even more money into education while test scores and other measurements continue to decline is more of the same. Offering up solutions to problems that have already been solved is pandering and more of the same. We need to identify and solve problems differently.
Second, Iowans' priorities need to be our priorities. Iowans want their government more efficient and they want it to be serious about protecting every tax dollar. They don't want more obstacles and more government intrusion into their lives. Most simply want to be left alone to raise their families and enjoy their communities. So we need to continue to spend less than we take in, continue to pay off debt and focus investments on key areas with broad support.
Third, we need to work with each other. Blustering, ranting and drawing lines in the sand accomplishes very little. We must not be afraid to work with people with whom we disagree. Iowans don't want us to fight the same tired battles that ultimately end in a stalemate; instead they want results. We have shown that we can accomplish this, without compromising our core principles.
Lastly, every year in my opening day speech I offer a gentle reminder that the desks we sit in do not belong to us - instead they belong to the 30,000 Iowans we each represent back home. The people who send us here expect us to do our jobs, just like they do every day. Iowans want government to do less but do it better. Now, let's get to work.
Opening remarks from Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (as prepared):
Thank you Mr. Speaker,
Ladies and Gentlemen of the House, our families and guests here today, and to all Iowans listening and watching online, welcome to the 86th General Assembly of the Iowa House of Representatives.
I am honored to be sworn in today with such an amazing group of people. Take a look around the room. The variety of expertise and experience here is impressive.
You bring with you a wealth of perspective that will enrich the work we do here. Thank you for offering your time and talent to serve. Thank you to your families and friends for their support and helping make it possible for you to be here.
I want to thank my family for their patience and their sacrifice. I could not do this without your help and understanding.
To the great people of Butler, Franklin, and Cerro Gordo counties, thank you for this opportunity. I share your pride for our area and will always be mindful that while I am the occupant of this desk, you are the owner.
It is a privilege to return as the Majority Leader of the Iowa House. I want to thank my fellow Republicans for entrusting me with this responsibility. I admire your commitment to finding solutions and working together for the benefit of Iowa. I am proud to join you in continuing that work.
The task at hand is a challenging one. First and foremost we have a responsibility to craft a responsible budget. Fortunately the Iowa economy continues to grow. According to the December meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference, we will have an additional $200 million in revenue growth available this year.
Continuing growth of the Iowa economy during a time when there is such pressure on the agriculture industry is something we should all be thankful for. There are reasons for concern though.
Consider just the costs associated with Medicaid. Today, we expect year-over-year costs for Medicaid to increase $206 million. That is a 7.6% increase at a time when revenue is growing at 4.9%.
Taking a more long-term review highlights the severity of the problem. Over the last ten years, the general fund has grown at an annual rate of 4.1%. Meanwhile, Medicaid has grown at an annual rate of 11.7% for a staggering total of 170% growth.
This is not sustainable. Each year Medicaid's piece of the budget increases and it takes away our opportunities to put resources into other initiatives. We are well on our way to being forced to choose between providing medical services or education for our kids.
Providing tax relief to the hardworking people of Iowa is a priority for many of us in this chamber. I know many of you share my interest in investing in a world-class education system and increasing access to job training. Maybe you want to invest more into infrastructure, school choice, or renewable energy.
These are the kinds of choices that begin to be taken away from our constituents and us when we have an inflexible federal program whose growth outpaces revenue. But challenges present opportunities.
We need to find ways to be more efficient and effective with the resources we have. We need to review our procedures for documentation, waivers, and grant applications.
We need to focus on processes that eliminate fraud and tear down silos. This will allow the administration of services to be as efficient as possible so that more of the resources dedicated to those in need get there.
I continue to believe that if we are going to be successful, we need to insulate ourselves from the inflexibility and inefficiency of federal obligations. Medicaid is the example I have highlighted today, but it permeates many of the programs and policies we will address this year.
We should not be restrained from what we do best, finding Iowa based solutions for Iowa needs.
Remember the federal government does not display the discipline we do here in Iowa. They do not follow our budgeting principles. They recklessly spend without regard for Iowans' desire to live within our means. This is a dangerous partnership, and if we are not vigilant it could bankrupt both of us.
This General Assembly has the opportunity to accomplish great things that will have a longstanding impact on the future of the great state of Iowa.
We will consider many pieces of legislation over the course of the next several months. You will each contribute to the process with the expertise and experience you bring with you.
The vast majority of the bills that we debate will receive a consensus of support bearing the fingerprints of Democrats and Republicans. Urban legislators and rural legislators. Freshmen legislators... and Jack Drake and Dennis Cohoon.
Our best work is done when we come together to find solutions for the challenges our constituents face. That is the tradition of this chamber, this building, and this state.
Our opportunities are in front of us; let's get to work!
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Opening remarks from Iowa House Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl (as prepared):
Ladies and gentlemen of the 86th General Assembly thank you for bestowing on me the honor to serve as Speaker Pro Tem. It is truly an honor and a privilege to serve with all of you. I would like to thank my constituents back home for choosing me to be their voice in this august body. I would also like to thank my family, especially my wife Ivelisse and our daughters, for all the sacrifices they make to accommodate my service to the people of Iowa.
We each have different priorities our constituents sent us here to focus on. As Speaker Pro Tem I look forward to working with each and every one of you to accomplish many of those priorities in a bipartisan fashion. There are times we may not agree on the best path forward, but we all have a similar interest at heart, to do what is right by the people of Iowa.
As we open the doors on this new General Assembly let us remember that our time in this chamber is finite and the seats in which we sit are borrowed. Iowans expect us to do our work in a timely fashion and in a bipartisan way. Let us all keep open minds to new ideas and be willing to listen to diverse opinions.
With each new session come new challenges and new opportunities. It is my sincere hope that when the books are closed on the 86th General Assembly we can look back with pride on the accomplishments we made on behalf of Iowans. Let us work together to make Iowa the best place to live, where taxes are low, jobs are abundant, education is top of the line, innocent life is protected and Second Amendment rights are fully embraced.
I pray that God guide us in all the work that lies ahead and show us the correct path to prosperity. God Bless you all!
Now let's get down to business fulfilling the will of Iowans!
Opening remarks from Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith (as prepared):
Good morning Mr. Speaker. Good morning distinguished members of the Iowa House. Let me welcome the new members of this body and welcome back all of you who have served before.
First, let me say I'm humbled to be leader of the House Democratic Caucus again this year. I'm proud to lead the most diverse caucus in the State Capitol that is a true reflection of the people of Iowa. We have five minority members and a record 49% of our caucus are women this year, the highest we've ever had.
One cannot gather in this beautiful room without having a sense of history. From 1857 on, people elected to represent their neighbors and community have traveled to Des Moines to participate in this great legislative body. At the desk we sit, representatives have risen to debate issues that affect the well-being of Iowa's people.
The people who sat at our desk before us had their time and their moments. Today is our time and our moment. The challenge before us is always whether or not we will move our great state forward and whether the decisions we make will positively impact the well-being of Iowans.
The author, Willa Cather, once mused that winter was a time for the fields to lay fallow, for good books, and for long naps. I've often wondered what she would have thought about the Iowa Legislature coming together and disrupting those three things.
She also said that "some things are learned in the calm and others are learned in the storm." We begin each legislative session in the calm and know that there will be stormy periods as we debate and wrestle with the issues before us.
This is the American way and more importantly it is the Iowa way: to ensure that issues are vetted, unintended consequences are exposed, and that the two-party system works to make a better Iowa.
Mr. Speaker, in the 2015 legislative session, it is my commitment to you that Democrats will work together with you to pass legislation in earnest if it answers "yes" to the following question:
Will it strengthen Iowa's middle class or re-vitalize rural Iowa?
Those are the two key priorities of Democrats this year and they also happen to be the most important for the future of our great state.
We know the foundation of our economy is a strong middle class.
It starts with a good education that develops the skilled workforce we need to compete with workers from around the globe and bring good jobs to our state. We should expand the skilled worker initiative we passed a few years ago with tuition grants for students at Iowa community colleges and keep higher education affordable for all Iowa families.
We should expand early childhood education this year to make sure children enter kindergarten ready to learn. It's also essential that we don't short change our K-12 schools next year and leave them without the tools necessary to boost student achievement.
The middle class will thrive if we can encourage new partnerships between educators and our local businesses that will create hands-on learning opportunities to better prepare students for future jobs and keep young people in Iowa.
We can also help more Iowans reach the middle class by raising the minimum wage for over 300,000 Iowans. Just a few days ago, 21 states - including our neighbors in South Dakota and Nebraska - raised the minimum wage for over 3 million workers across the country. The last time this chamber passed the minimum wage was 2007 and it passed with 79 votes. It's time for us to do it again this year.
Over the last 50 years, many rural communities have experienced a significant decline in population. House Democrats believe there is more the state must do to stop the decline and capitalize on the strengths of rural communities.
Our ideas to re-vitalize rural Iowa this year aren't based on partisanship or ideology. They are common sense ideas that will benefit rural communities across the state.
To grow our agricultural economy, we'll work to encourage more production and use of renewable energy like wind, solar, and biofuels. It's an industry that already employs thousands of Iowans and adds value to the crops and land of our farmers.
In hundreds of small towns across Iowa, schools are still a great source of pride and build a sense of community. Our job here in the Legislature is to make sure every child gets a great education, regardless of where they live.
We should also pass a bill this year to expand access to broadband and WI-FI for homes, schools, and businesses in under-served and un-served areas. If we do this correctly, it will serve Iowans for generations to come. My caucus also firmly believes we need to take additional steps this year to improve water quality and expand Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
Iowans living in rural areas also deserve access to quality, affordable health care, including mental health services.
If this body can work together this year and focus our efforts on a strong middle class and vibrant rural economy, we'll be able to call the 2015 session a success.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that the voters selected a bipartisan approach to legislation this year with a Democratic led Senate and a Republican led House. Compromise and working together will be to our credit. Once again, a quote from Willa Cather comes to mind: "winter lies too long," she said, "and hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen."
Mr. Speaker, let us begin and end our work before it lies too long or hangs on until it is stale and shabby. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Opening remarks from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (as prepared):
I want to welcome the legislators, staff, the news media and our guests to the Senate today. We should all be honored for the opportunity we have to be part of leading the great state of Iowa.
The focus of the 2015 session must be Iowa's middle class.
While some Iowans have benefitted during the recovery from the Great Recession, Iowa's middle class has been largely left out.
Higher student debt.
Slow job growth.
Thousands of workers who need 21st Century skills.
So many Iowa families are struggling financially that it hurts Iowa's economy.
There are fewer dollars in circulation in our communities. And the businesses in our small towns have fewer customers.
What Iowa needs is a larger middle class. More Iowans with access to good jobs, great schools, affordable child care, health care, and housing; and the ability to retire with dignity.
Given that, the most important question facing Iowa legislators is how will we help Iowa's middle class?
Here's a good start.
Local school funding that will continue improvements in student achievement and teacher quality
Freezing tuition for in-state students at our state universities for a third year in a row
Making sure Iowa workers are paid what they are owed
Boosting opportunities for worker training programs at community colleges
Giving Iowa companies the first crack at state contracts
Continuing to balance the state budget
My hope for the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature is that members of the Iowa House and Senate - Republicans and Democrats - will focus on what's best for Iowa's middle class...and for Iowans struggling to join the middle class.
I want to thank Governor Branstad for his commitment to start following the law on school funding. Last week, the governor told reporters that in his speech tomorrow he WILL, in contrast to previous years, offer proposals to fund Iowa's local schools for this year and the next.
That is a welcome change of course.
Governor Branstad and House Republicans have repeatedly REFUSED to follow Iowa's law REQUIRING school funding to be decided FIRST, before the rest of the budget.
As a result, we are currently almost a year late in setting the 2015-2016 school year budget.
And Iowa has fallen to 37th in the nation in per pupil spending!
Thank goodness Iowa student achievement still ranks far higher than that.
We can thank Iowa students, parents and educators for that.
In the long run, you get what you pay for...and we aren't paying for world class schools.
So, it was great to hear that Governor Branstad is adopting a new approach to education.
His next words, however, were a disappointment.
Governor Branstad predicted Democrats would be disappointed.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
That comment shows exactly why school funding has become a mess here in Iowa.
Let me spell it out. Education funding is not, and should never be, primarily about partisan politics. NEVER.
That hasn't been Iowa's history, and if education DOES become a partisan issue in Iowa, it will spell disaster for our state's future.
Governor, the people you should be MOST concerned about disappointing are Iowa's parents, teachers, school administrators, school boards and community leaders.
Governor, you need to focus on the Iowa families for whom the doors to the local school are the doorways to a better life for their children.
Governor, don't disappoint Iowa communities who depend on great local schools to help attract new businesses and new residents.
Governor, don't disappoint everyone in this state who wants Iowa to fully recover from the Great Recession so we become the prosperous state we once were.
I've often said that successful legislative work is about finding common ground.
If we don't find common ground between the Senate, the House and the Governor, Iowa won't move forward.
Finding common ground often isn't easy. By definition, you don't get things your own way
Here's what keeps me going. Here's what prevents me from giving up when it appears common ground is impossible to find.
Our state is at a critical point in history. Iowans are struggling financially, they are worried about the future, and they are depending on us.
Let's all agree the election is over, and it is too early to start the next campaign.
It's time to focus on the things we CAN agree on.
If we put the needs of Iowa's citizens ahead of narrow, partisan politics, we WILL find that common ground and this session will make a positive contribution to the state we all love.
Opening remarks from Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum:
Welcome to the 2015 session of the 86th General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature.
I especially want to welcome the 7 new members of the Senate: Senators Chaz Allen, Mark Costello, Kevin Kinney, Tim Kraayenbrink, Jason Schultz, Tom Shipley and Senator Tony Bisignano, who is returning to the Senate.
Thank you for the commitment to public service that led your family, friends and neighbors to send you to serve them and represent all the people of our great state in the Iowa Senate.
My final thank you is for the honor of serving as President of the Senate.
I pledge to work with every member of the Senate with an open door policy. As State Senators, we have a responsibility to lead honorably with our words and our actions; as leaders we have a duty to set an example on how to solve problems in spite of our differences.
With the Golden Rule as our guide-to treat others as we want to be treated-we will succeed. As Henry Ford once said, "Coming together is a beginning, staying to together is progress, and working together is success."
Since Iowa voters created divided government, only ideas that have or can gain bipartisan support will become law.
The question is: How do we move forward despite our real differences?
Let's begin by aiming higher than the partisan debates that divide us.
Let's begin by listening and talking TO each other rather than OVER each other.
Let's begin by setting our sights on goals that are supported by all Iowans and will make a real difference in Iowa's future.
After all, that is how we reached agreement on the Earned Income Tax Credit, commercial property tax reform, skilled worker programs, and the Iowa Health And Wellness Plan, to mention just a few initiatives from the recent past.
Here's our challenge: We need to craft a balanced budget that is fair to all Iowans. The budget is our plan for the future. The budget is proof of our commitment to the people and policies we claim to believe in.
And, the budget must help us build an economy that works for everyone.
That means jobs that support families. According to the recent Batelle Report, Iowa's workers outperform the national average on productivity, but their wages are twenty-three percent below the national average.
Subsequently, too many IOWANS are being left behind, and those who are impacted the most are our children.
For too long, the well-being of children has been considered a "woman's issue." It is not just a "woman's issue". It is an American issue. It is an Iowan issue.
Today, forty-one percent of Iowa's children under the age of 6 live in low income households. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to have persistent health issues, are less successful in school, and have lower incomes throughout their lives.
If that's the likely future for 41% of future Iowans, that spells trouble for our economy and for all Iowans.
However, if those same kids have good health care and extra help in school, almost all of the predicted disadvantages go away.
Iowans have always risen to the challenges we face. For example, the Healthy and Well Kids of Iowa (HAWK-I) health insurance program was begun and then repeatedly funded by bipartisan legislative majorities. It was implemented by Republican and Democratic Governors: Branstad, Vilsack, and Culver. As a result of those efforts, Iowa children have fewer health problems, incur lower health care costs, and are doing better in school.
Those benefits will last throughout their lives. That's the sort of outcome that brings people together.
Here are three ways we can come together to help Iowa's children.
First, continue opening doors to education.
Let's freeze in-state undergraduate tuition for a third year. This will encourage more Iowa students to get their college degree and help reduce college debt.
Let's restore bipartisan consensus to support our local PreK-12 students. The legislators who filled this chamber in years past, Democrats and Republicans, would be appalled to learn that Iowa has fallen to 37th in the nation in per pupil funding.
Those former Iowa senators knew long ago that great local schools are the best, most certain path to economic prosperity and to prepare our youth to be responsible citizens, and life-long learners.
While we can't predict which industries will produce the best jobs of the future, it is obvious that those industries will need innovative, educated workers who can solve problems and adapt to changing conditions.
That's why the Iowa Legislature voted 40 years ago to put students first when writing the state budget. That's why state law REQUIRES us to set school funding 18 months in advance.
In recent years, that law has been ignored and that hurts our kids. That's why our state now invests $1700 LESS per student than the national average.
It is easy to fix this problem. All we have to do is follow the law.
Let's open the school door wider for our youngest children and focus our investment where and when it counts most, from birth to five years old. It is in those first five years when the foundation for learning is laid.
The best research suggests that early childhood education provides more than eight and a half dollars for every dollar invested. It helps narrow the achievement gap and results in lifelong benefits, like a boost in earnings later in life. That was the conclusion of Governor Branstad's 2011 education summit. It is time that early childhood education be available to every four year old.
And finally, quality, affordable childcare is still lagging in most of our communities as is the successful First Five initiative that helps detect and help prevent mental health and developmental problems among young children.
These are not partisan issues. These are the kids growing up in our communities right now. The young boys and girls who will become Iowa's future workers, parents, and civic leaders.
If we believe in the words of Iowa's native son, President Hoover, when he said, "children are our most precious resource;" If we believe that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people, then what are we waiting for? Let's unleash the extraordinary possibilities in our most precious resource-our children.
Opening remarks from Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix (as prepared):
I am proud and honored to stand here today to speak with my fellow legislators and to Iowans.
A few weeks ago many of us began making plans for 2015. Speaking with friends, they began sharing their New Year's resolutions. Some spoke of cutting back on sweets, exercising more, spending more time with family, and saving up for a family trip. There was not a bad idea mentioned, and I thought about how to apply those ideas to myself and my family.
I have to admit, it probably would not hurt to exercise more, and I enjoy the time I spend with Gerri and the kids - and I know I should set aside more time to do exactly that. As I thought more about it, my family and friends are much like yours in this chamber. They are working hard to meet their financial obligations, provide a good home for their children, while trying to save for a family trip or rainy day.
Shortly after Christmas, having my morning coffee I kept thinking about these New Year's resolutions. I shared with Gerri my plans to get into better shape, spend time with her and the kids and come to the Capitol and fight for families like mine, yours and our neighbors and friends across the state to create a legacy of opportunity for every Iowan.
Speaking with my fellow Senate Republicans, we resolve again this year to be fiscally responsible with the taxpayers' money, ensure every child has access to a world class education, honor the commitments we have passed in this chamber, and lift up those with middle incomes. But even as I say that, I realize that some resolutions are simply more important than others. The treadmill may begin collecting dust in February, and the Kit Kat could return to the morning routine in March. But Senate Republicans are resolved - no, committed - to fight for what is right to move our great state forward. We have seen those successes in the past such as eliminating the state income tax on military pensions and social security and education reform.
Iowa's unemployment is near pre-recession levels. A billion dollar deficit is memory. Teacher pay has increased. Commercial property tax relief is now a reality. None of this occurred with a snap of a finger and hoping for the best. With foresight and collaboration, we made this happen.
It is vital we maintain this foresight and ability to work together to rein in spending and keep our state on a strong financial footing. Sitting around the table, Iowa families prioritize their spending to ensure they are not adding to their credit card debt. We face a challenging budget year, and Iowans expect their legislators also to prioritize - particularly when it comes to spending their money and passing debt onto their children and grandchildren.
As a legislative body, we face some tough decisions when it comes to prioritizing spending and making necessary cuts. I believe this body has the resolve to work together to rein in spending, make cuts and reduce the size of government and lift up all Iowans in the process by reducing their tax burdens.
We must be aggressive in our focus on growing our economy. A competitive tax structure is advantageous in expanding our skilled workforce and creating new career opportunities. Senate Republicans know we must reduce the regulatory and tax burdens on job creators. Significant tax relief emboldens businesses, which leads to job creation, bolsters Iowa's economy and leads to increases in state revenues.
With the reform packages passed in 2013, we must be mindful in our work when it comes to budgeting. It is important we maintain fiscally responsible budgeting practices while ensuring commitments we made to Iowans regarding education and property tax reform are met. Shirking this responsibility in favor of simply raising taxes would be a betrayal of the trust of the voters who elected us. Spending money we do not have would be worse: a betrayal of the next generation as we hand them the tab for our irresponsibility.
Senate Republicans pledge our resolve to work to create a legacy of opportunity for all Iowans. We are willing to work with Senate Democrats to make this vision a reality. After all, that is the government Iowans expect, the representation they deserve and the leadership they elected us to provide.
Let's make it Happen!