Budget looms large, social issues largely absent on the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2016

Governor Terry Branstad wore a pink tie and many colleagues remarked on history made yesterday at the Capitol, as Linda Upmeyer became the first woman to preside over the Iowa House as speaker, as well as the first child of an Iowa legislative leader to rise to the same position. Erin Murphy's take on the milestone is worth a read.

As in recent years, social issues were almost entirely absent from the leaders' opening remarks to their Iowa House and Senate colleagues. State budget priorities dominated the comments relating to public policy, with Republicans emphasizing the importance of not spending too much and Democrats emphasizing the need to spend enough on education and other vital services. No one mentioned Branstad's call to extend the penny sales tax for school infrastructure and divert part of the revenue stream to water programs.

No leader of either party's caucus referenced the abortion debate during Monday's speeches, although Upmeyer has repeatedly promised to put Planned Parenthood's state funding on the chopping block again. Only House Minority Leader Mark Smith alluded to same-sex marriage, in a positive comment about equal protection allowing our state "to recognize the love between two people that results in marriage is not limited to just people of the opposite sex."

Upmeyer urged colleagues not to focus on the "low expectations for this session" from the "press and pundits." (Count me as one of those; why else were several power-brokers from last year's budget negotiations eager not to repeat the experience in 2016?) Upmeyer recalled hearing from many people that her late father, onetime Iowa House Speaker Del Stromer, was so good "at working with anyone in this building. That has always stuck with me and I know that while times have changed, the value of working together has not." She hailed the "opportunity to once again pass a sustainable budget" that increases funding for K-12 schools.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow echoed the call for "common sense budgeting principles" and assured colleagues, "House Republicans have heard loud and clear that school funding needs to be set early and that is exactly what we plan to do." He joins a growing list of statehouse Republicans who have promised to work toward an early deal on the education budget, but meeting that goal will be easier said than done. Hagenow also briefly cited policies to improve worker skills and the business climate.

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix was less upbeat about the legislature's budgeting work lately, which is not surprising, since Senate Republicans have largely been shut out of important negotiations. Dix lamented the fact that Senate GOP warnings about "getting our state spending under control" have "fallen upon deaf ears in this chamber." He asserted that "reckless spending habits" have led to a "financial storm," as state revenues "continue to come in below projections" and the agricultural sector of the economy is hurting "due to lagging livestock and commodity prices."

On the Democratic side, leaders stressed their commitment to increase education funding and their concerns about the Branstad administration's Medicaid privatization policy. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for investing "more in our universities and community colleges" and raising state aid to K-12 schools "by an amount that will increase educational opportunities."

We must break the pattern of the last few years when the Governor and Iowa House leaders successfully insisted on inadequate funding for our local schools.

Look at the results: more crowded classrooms, fewer advanced courses, and higher property taxes.

I doubt Senate Democrats will agree to any education funding compromise this year that would put increased spending in a supplemental bill. In July, Branstad vetoed supplemental funds for primary, secondary, and higher education, erasing the most important concessions House leaders made to Democrats during the 2015 legislative session.

Recalling public feedback about the "poorly planned, poorly implemented mess" of a Medicaid privatization, Gronstal told fellow lawmakers they could "help fix this problem" by taking up Medicaid oversight legislation that cleared the Iowa Senate last year but died in the House. The Senate majority leader apparently has not given up on trying to persuade House counterparts to "agree on legislation to stop the Branstad/Reynolds Administration from closing Iowa's remaining Mental Health Institutes." Whether the legislature continues to appropriate funds for in-patient mental health facilities may determine the outcome of litigation challenging the governor's decision to close institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. Last year the Iowa Supreme Court dismissed a suit contesting the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home, on the grounds that the state legislature had stopped funding its operation.

Senate President Pam Jochum, whose adult daughter is on Medicaid because of developmental disabilities, similarly called for passage of "comprehensive oversight" legislation, as well as safeguards to "protect our most vulnerable citizens and our local providers if this [privatization] moves forward." Without naming Branstad, she criticized last year's

unprecedented number of unilateral decisions made behind closed doors that bypassed the legislative branch—decisions to privatize the entire Medicaid system, to close two mental health institutes, and to cut $48 million in taxes by administrative rule, to mention a few. [...]

The issues that linger are trust, transparency, the checks and balance of power, and the rule of law. Trust is the lifeblood of our democracy. It is the bond between the people and their government and it is the bond between all of us serving in government.

It's hard to overstate the importance of Medicaid privatization, which will directly affect the health care one in six Iowans receive. By comparison, the huge tax cut being enacted through administrative rule-making will have a mostly-hidden impact. Nevertheless, it is an unprecedented and probably illegal expansion of executive authority, which hasn't received enough attention in the Iowa media, so I appreciate that Jochum touched on it.

After citing numerous alarming statistics about the well-being of Iowa children, the Senate president called for a "war" on poverty and inequality, raising the minimum wage and investing in education at all levels.

House Minority Leader Smith identified lawmakers' key task as easing "the burden on working families," through making public schools "the top priority of this body again," "making college and job training more affordable," improving access to continuing education and early childhood education, raising the minimum wage, and requiring equal pay for women, among other policies. He slammed "the Governor’s Medicaid mess," marked by "confusion, misinformation, scandals, and too many lawsuits." I doubt House leaders will agree to pass oversight legislation, but I hope they will prove me wrong.

I enclose below the full texts of all the prepared remarks by Iowa House and Senate leaders. Any comments about the 2016 session are welcome in this thread.

Final note: Democratic State Representative Curt Hanson made many people's day by honoring the recent birth of his fifth grandchild: "In the tradition of the Iowa House, I provided nine pounds and five ounces (the birth weight) of chocolates from The Chocolate Cafe in Fairfield. I received many compliments about the chocolate and it was gone by lunchtime." Inquiring minds want to know: who started that Iowa House tradition?

Opening remarks by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, as prepared for delivery:

To my colleagues, our friends and families, and to all Iowans here or watching at home, welcome back to the Iowa House of Representatives.

To my husband Doug, our children, and grandchildren; you sacrifice the most. Thank you for understanding when I am away, thank you for supporting me when things get bumpy.

This is such a special personal moment for our family. I think it will really take some time for me to fully appreciate following my father’s footsteps into this chair. I am so thankful for the way my mother, who is here today, partnered with my father to instill us kids with good values.

Many have remarked to me over the years how good my father was at working with anyone in this building. That has always stuck with me and I know that while times have changed, the value of working together has not.

It is humbling to be the first woman to preside over this prestigious chamber. It is exciting that we are making history, in a room that has experienced so much of it.

I want to thank my caucus for selecting me to lead this chamber and thank you all for your support today.

I hope my election as Speaker shows all young women, and Iowans who come from diverse backgrounds, that opportunities abound. For a long time, we have told children they can be whatever they want when they grow up. Today, better than ever, we are showing them that is a reality.

Like many of you, I left here last session with certain expectations for how this session would start. Expectations however, rarely predict future realities.

Settling for what is expected would be a very disappointing habit for this body to get into. If we settled for expectations, how many of our greatest achievements would have been left on the shelf, unrealized?

The press and pundits have low expectations for this session. These are not the expectations we should concern ourselves with. Instead, we should focus on the expectations of the Iowans we have been elected to represent.

Our constituents expect us to listen to them. To bring their ideas and concerns into this building, share them, and use them to do what is right for the future of this state.

Those who arrived here today intending to use disagreements between us to drive us further apart are doing so to the detriment of the people we serve. The perpetual campaign and gridlock are the failures of Washington, D.C. It is a miscalculation to think using that disastrous approach will be an advantage inside this building.

We have chosen a different approach in the past and I am optimistic we will do so again.

In each of the last five years, we have found agreement on budgets that fund priorities without spending more than we take in. Iowans have come to expect this kind of common sense budgeting. This has served us well and with available revenue anticipated to grow by $153 million this year, we should welcome the opportunity to once again pass a sustainable budget.

In each of the last five years, we have found a way to increase funding for schools. We will increase funding for schools again this year. However, we should recognize that the needs of our schools and students extend beyond the amount we increase their funding each year.

If we are to improve the opportunities provided by an education in Iowa’s public schools, the expectation should be that we can broaden the conversation to ways to provide for flexibility and innovation while retaining a focus on the students.

In three weeks, Iowa will host the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. You might have noticed that those hoping to be our next president are currently spending even more of their time in Iowa. A common message Iowans are sharing with candidates is that they are unhappy with the status quo and they do not believe there is the will to change it. I share their concern.

With confidence at an all-time low, we need leadership. I am not only talking about our next president. I am talking about us. Iowans should expect the state to showcase how government, for the people, by the people, is supposed to work.

The founders of this nation feared an overreaching and stifling federal government. They trusted the states to be the laboratories of innovation who could prevent the realities we now face.

It is not our job to protect the status quo. In a fast-moving and ever-changing world, the status quo means being left behind. We should strive for better. We should welcome disruptive ideas. We should pursue policies that increase opportunities, use technology to remove barriers, help us make this the best state in the nation to grow a business and raise a family.

My expectations are high because I believe in the good will and the talent of the people in this room and of Iowans. I look forward to what lies ahead for the Iowa House of Representatives and the great State of Iowa.

May God bless our work.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow's opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House. It is my honor to welcome you, your families and your guests back to the Iowa House of Representatives for the 2016 legislative session.

I am greatly humbled by the responsibility my caucus has entrusted to me in electing me to the office of House Majority Leader. Thank you for the faith you have placed in me to serve you in this role.

My greatest appreciation is to my wife Amanda for her steadfast support, and also to Owen, Noah and Sophia for the sacrifices they have made to allow me to serve. All of us know exactly what our families give to send us here and to do our work.

I am asked from time to time how I balance my responsibilities as husband and father with the work of being a legislative leader. While it certainly has its challenges, this job would be impossible without their love and support.

To Speaker Paulsen, thank you for your hard work and dedication to this great state. The people of Iowa have been well-served by your leadership, and the House Republican Caucus owes you a debt of gratitude.

To Speaker Upmeyer, congratulations. It is an honor to serve with you. I am excited about what we will accomplish together and I am proud to call you my friend. It is already very clear to me that we have made a wise decision in selecting you as our Speaker and I have no doubt that you will serve this body and the state of Iowa very well. Your work ethic and commitment to our state is unparalleled. Once again, Republicans in this state have proven that capable women are able to rise to the highest levels of political office.

I’ve also greatly enjoyed working with many House Democrats in a constructive and positive way to craft public policy with the best interests of Iowans in mind. I look forward to continuing to build those relationships wherever possible.

Over the past five years, House Republicans have committed to passing a balanced budget while not using one-time money for ongoing obligations. Our common sense budgeting principles are what the taxpayers of this state expect from their government. While it is not always easy, it is the responsible thing to do. House Republicans will continue to insist on passing a budget that does not spend more than the state collects in revenue. We will continue to make sure that we fund the priority needs of Iowans within the revenue they have provided.

There is no question that this will require difficult decisions of this body, but the reason that we will be successful and we will be able to meet these challenges is because of our fiscal responsibility. Setting budget priorities is never an easy task, but the responsibility we have shown in the past will make it much less difficult this year to meet these challenges. So let us continue down that path. Let us not just meet the needs of today but leave this state on solid ground for tomorrow.

We will have other challenges as well. House Republicans have heard loud and clear that school funding needs to be set early and that is exactly what we plan to do. Not only do our schools need to plan their budgets, but they need to know that the commitment we make is one upon which they can depend.

House Republicans will continue to work toward policies that lead to greater economic prosperity. Let us continue our work to build a highly-skilled workforce, and to foster a business climate in which high-paying career jobs are plentiful. The economy of tomorrow depends on our work today to streamline government and create an environment that makes it easier to do business and grow jobs in the state.

I’m a sixth-generation Iowan. My great-great-great grandfather Hagenow came here to work the land and make a better life for his family. My own parents, who are sitting behind me today, chose to bring their family back to Iowa because of what this state had to offer. I am now blessed to have that same opportunity for my family. My prayer is that our work here will help to secure those same opportunities and that same great Iowa for my own children and the next generation of Iowans.

Let’s continue to show Iowans that we are able to work together. House Republicans will hold ourselves to the same high standards that Iowans have for us: To work diligently, to work together, and get to the job done.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

2016 Legislative Session Opening Day Remarks
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith

Welcome back to all of you. And let me first say congratulations to you Madam Speaker and Leader Hagenow. I look forward to working with both of you this session.

Last year, a member of this body used a quote from George Santayana that was attributed to someone else. Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The preamble to what Santayana said is also very important: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.”

We have made great changes by being the people of Iowa. We were the first to rule against the enslavement of our brothers and sisters of African descent. We barely broke Iowa’s sod for farming when we built country schools. We were the first state to allow people of color to own land and therefore it was legal for the first people of our land to purchase 80 acres in Tama County and to bring their people together.

One of the few amendments to our constitution added two words wherever the term “men” appeared by adding “and women.” The strength of our constitution on equal protection allowed us to recognize the love between two people that results in marriage is not limited to just people of the opposite sex.

Will we be consistent with the progressive history of our great state? To do so, we must bridge the gap between liberty and rights through laws that honor both. We must make this a state worthy of its children.

House Democrats believe every family and every child in Iowa deserves a fair shot to achieve the American Dream.

Today, too many families are working hard with one, two, or even three jobs, but still not getting ahead. Their wages simply aren’t keeping up with rising costs for food, medicine, and child care.

Our challenge this year is to ease the burden on working families in Iowa.

We can start by renewing of our commitment to public education. It means we make the top priority of Iowans – our public schools – the top priority of this body again.

No more delays.

No more vetoes.

No more schemes.

No more games.

Public schools must come first again.

We can also help working families by making college and job training more affordable. Iowans should be able to get the skills necessary to land a good job without being in massive debt after graduation. With a workforce shortage on the horizon, the reality is we need every Iowan to get some skills or training after high school to make sure we have enough workers to fill the jobs in our growing economy. We should also work together to provide continuing education and job retraining when needed.

House Democrats will work this year to expand early childhood education, protect kids from bullying, raise the minimum wage, and make sure women earn equal pay for equal work. We pledge our cooperation with the majority party to encourage more investment in small businesses and entrepreneurs, create good jobs, and expand renewable energy. All of those ideas will give working families a boost and help us re-build the middle class.

Finally, this body cannot ignore the Governor’s Medicaid mess.

Since the Governor announced his privatization effort last year, there has been confusion, misinformation, scandals, and too many lawsuits. The rush to privatize Medicaid has caused outright fear among the most vulnerable Iowans. These are people who count on us to have their best interests at heart.

As lawmakers, we have an obligation to oversee this transition and make sure no Iowan falls through the cracks. I know each of you has received letters, emails, and phone calls with questions about Medicaid. I also know the Governor has not been able to provide many answers to those questions.

I ask that we work together in a bi-partisan manner, like we’ve done on other health care issues, to resolve this mess that is filling our providers with uncertainty and putting too many vulnerable Iowans at risk

So, the 2016 session begins, Madam Speaker. We commit to move bi-partisan legislation as quickly as possible. We also commit to our responsibility as the minority party: to fight strongly and intelligently for the things we feel are correct and beneficial for the good, hard-working people of Iowa, to remember the past, to retain and expand the gains we have made for Iowans and above all to honor liberty and the rights of people.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal's opening remarks, as prepared:

Welcome to the first day of the 2016 session of the Iowa Legislature.

Our focus this year must be bringing more workers and their families into Iowa’s middle class.
Iowans are counting on us. Based on the events of the last year, here are two steps that should receive strong, bipartisan support in the Iowa Senate, the Iowa House and in the Governor’s office.

One, we should expand educational opportunities and, two, we should strengthen the health care safety net all Iowa families count on.

Our children and grandchildren must be better prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century economy. If we want more high-wage, high-skill jobs in Iowa, we must do more to prepare Iowans to fill those jobs.

That’s why we must invest more in K12 and higher education. This includes increased state aid to our local K-12 schools for the next two years by an amount that will increase educational opportunities.

We must also invest more in our universities and community colleges.

We must break the pattern of the last few years when the Governor and Iowa House leaders successfully insisted on inadequate funding for our local schools.

Look at the results: more crowded classrooms, fewer advanced courses, and higher property taxes.

Last year, House leaders refused to provide adequate funding in the Education Budget to continue the in-state tuition freeze at our state universities. They also refused to make adequate investments in Iowa’s community colleges.

Those mistakes are making it harder for students from middle-class families to get ahead. Those mistakes are also making it more difficult for Iowa businesses to hire the skilled workers they need.

In 2016, we can and must do better.

Every Iowa family counts on the Medicaid safety net when faced with the most severe medical challenges.

Everyone in this chamber has talked with constituents whose family health care costs would bankrupt the financial resources of 99% of all Iowa families. Rather than dismissing their well-founded concerns, we should listen and take action.

During the summer and fall, Senate Democrats organized 17 listening posts in every corner of the state because we wanted to hear first-hand what Medicaid recipients, their families and health care providers had to say about Medicaid privatization.

Iowans -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents -- told us that the privatization scheme developed unilaterally by the Branstad/Reynolds Administration is a poorly planned, poorly implemented mess.

There is much we can do to help fix this problem. If we want to help, we can.

We can ensure that all Iowans have access to high-quality, affordable health care.

Last year, the House refused to take up the Senate’s Medicaid oversight legislation. That was a mistake.

This year, I hope that the events of the past six months and the outcry from their constituents will have changed their minds.

And I also hope we will agree on legislation to stop the Branstad/Reynolds Administration from closing Iowa’s remaining Mental Health Institutes.

Voting for quality, effective mental health care is a matter of human decency and public safety.

It is time to stop outsourcing mental health care onto local police departments, county jails and local property taxpayers.

Much has happened since the Legislature was last in session.

During that time, everyone in this statehouse – State Representatives, State Senators, the Governor and Lt. Governor –have told our constituents that we support:

• Better education for our children, and
• High quality, affordable health care

Here’s my main point today.

It’s not enough to tell your constituents that you agree with them on better schools and better health care.

Talk is cheap. We all know that.

Let’s not forget that failing to invest in education and health care is certain to be ruinously expensive.

Starting today at the Capitol, it’s time to back up your words with action.

We can do it. And we can do it this year.

But to get this accomplished in 2016, Senate Democrats need willing partners.

We need people willing to find solutions, people from the Senate Republicans, the House Republicans, and Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

We need your support. We need your votes.

Your constituents, your families and your state need less talk and more action. So, let’s get to work!

Thank you.

Senate President Pam Jochum's opening remarks, as prepared:

Good Morning.

Welcome back. Hopefully during the interim you were able to rejuvenate and enjoy some quality time with family and friends.

This is a hopeful time of the year when we ring in a New Year and a new legislative session. It is a time to look back and reflect, and it is a time to look forward to what we will do to make Iowa better for all Iowans.

So, as we’re driving down the newly paved highway, and looking in the rearview mirror, the 2015 interim brought about a few changes – the Senate will be working with new House leaders this session.

I’d like to congratulate Representative Linda Upmeyer and Representative Chris Hagenow in their new roles and thank Speaker Paulsen for his service and leadership. Representative Upmeyer is the first woman to be elected Speaker of the Iowa House, and for the first time in Iowa history a woman is serving as the presiding officer in both the House and the Senate.

We also said good-bye to Representative Jack Drake after a battle with cancer. Jack and I were elected to the Iowa House in the same year. Representative Drake was always respectful to other members, even in disagreement.

On a more personal note, my family gave a final farewell to my father. Dad passed on December 14th from congestive heart failure. Last year at this time, he held the Bible for me as Chief Justice Cady swore me into office as President of the Senate.

The 2015 session went into overtime but on June 3rd, the House and Senate reached an agreement on funding education and passed a balanced budget. Unfortunately, major pieces of that agreement were vetoed.

There were also an unprecedented number of unilateral decisions made behind closed doors that bypassed the legislative branch—decisions to privatize the entire Medicaid system, to close two mental health institutes, and to cut $48 million in taxes by administrative rule, to mention a few.

We can each decide if those ideas will improve the lives of Iowans. Only time holds the answer.

The issues that linger are trust, transparency, the checks and balance of power, and the rule of law. Trust is the lifeblood of our democracy. It is the bond between the people and their government and it is the bond between all of us serving in government.

There’s unfinished business.

The 60-day delay of the Governor’s proposed Medicaid managed care plan by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was welcomed by thousands of Iowans. However, the results of privatization in other States have not produced the promised results.

Therefore, I urge the House Republicans to pass SF 452 that provides for comprehensive oversight IF CMS gives its final approval. Furthermore, we need to work together to ensure there are safeguards in place that will protect our most vulnerable citizens and our local providers if this moves forward.

This is a time to look forward. The Iowa Presidential precinct caucuses are just around the corner. Next year at this time, our nation will be swearing a new President into office as well as a new Congress and a new Iowa Legislature. As hard as it may be to resist at times, let’s make a pledge to remain focused on governing for the next 100 days and leave the campaigning for the remaining 202 days.

It’s been said, “Politicians look to the next election. Statesmen and Stateswomen look to the next generation.” Let’s be the statesmen and women who do just that. It is the next generation I want to focus on today.

• There are 725,954 children in Iowa.

• 108,888 Iowa children are poor—that means a family of four is living on less than $23,834 a year.

• 1 in 15 children in Iowa live in extreme poverty, or living in a household with less than $11,917 a year.

• Nearly 7,000 Iowa public school students were homeless in the 2012-13 school year.

• Nearly 20 percent of our children lived in households that lacked access to adequate food.

• On a brighter note, 89 percent of Iowa public high school students graduated on time in 2012, placing Iowa 1st among states.

• 11,345 children were abused or neglected in 2013.

• 15,897 children between the ages of 10-17 were arrested in Iowa in 2012.

• Iowa spent 2.8 times as much per prisoner as per public school student in FY 2012.

These are the children of our next generation. These are the children of our future. We have to do better. What is disturbing is that Iowa is faring better than most states.

As the statistics reveal, the rungs of the economic ladder have grown farther apart. Poverty and income inequality can no longer be dismissed or ignored, nor can violence in homes and gun violence among our youth. It is time for a “New War on Poverty and Inequality.” It is time to focus on working families and expand the middle class. It is time to make the promise of equality and opportunity for all a reality.

We cannot just cut our way to prosperity. We must out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the world. That requires an investment in our “human” capital. It’s up to the States and local governments. New federal policies to address these problems seem highly unlikely.

I urge the House Republicans to pass SF 269. Let’s set a wage floor of $8.75, give 181,000 Iowans a raise, most of whom are women and children, and THEN we can focus on a living wage. According to the Iowa Department of Economic Development, a family of four needs a minimum of $45,000 ($25 an hour) to be financially independent to meet its basic needs. Let’s get to work on increasing the household income of Iowa’s working families. And that begins with education - educating our young children, ensuring affordable higher education and expanding robust worker skills programs at our community colleges.

Education is the engine that moves us forward. It is the hub of economic growth and opportunity. We cannot afford to undercut education again this year. I urge the House Republicans to pass our anti-bullying bill so that students have a secure and healthy educational environment in which to learn, AND to work with us to reach an agreement on adequate and equitable school funding by February 11th that ensures quality, meets the needs of students, and improves student learning. Every student, regardless of ZIP code, deserves a quality 21st century education.

In short, we need better-educated Iowans, we need more young Iowans, we need better-paid Iowans, we need an Iowa where there are “fields of opportunities”.

In the words of former U.S. Senator Paul Wellston[e], “We all do better when we all do better.” Let’s work together so that next January when the 2017 session opens, we can look back and say, “All Iowans did better”.

Thank you.

Opening remarks by Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, as prepared:

Thank you Madam President.

The memory of the last winter storm remains fresh in our minds as it blanketed much of Iowa with snow and ice two weeks ago. Prior to the storm, many Iowans flocked to the stores to ensure they had milk, bread and other necessities. Iowans understand the importance of being prepared when such a storm strikes.

Iowans expect the same sense of preparedness from their elected officials. Senate Republicans have called for such action and it has fallen upon deaf ears in this chamber. For the past several years, I have stood here – in this spot on the opening day of the legislative session – and stressed the seriousness of getting our state spending under control. Senate Republicans have long warned, if we do nothing to curb the appetite to spend the money of hard-working Iowans there would be consequences. Senate Republicans predicted a financial storm was coming unless we changed these reckless spending habits. Colleagues, this storm is no longer on the horizon. We are in the eye of the storm – seeking shelter is not an option.

This is a problem which requires action, and more important – leadership. Leadership is not pointing fingers, raising our voices or grandstanding with the intentions of questioning someone’s integrity. It is about rolling up our sleeves, working together to get to the crux of the matter and providing a solution. As we have witnessed repeatedly in the last several years, when state cost-cutting measures were proposed they faced great resistance. The burden of leadership is making tough choices that fly in the face of what some may want because it is the right thing to do. One of those solutions is to quench that never-ending thirst to overspend the people’s money. It is time to lead. This is what Iowans expect and demand from their elected officials.

Do not fool yourselves; Iowans are watching and fully understand the challenges we face. Ask the farmer who took a loss on last year’s corn crop. Reach out to a northwest Iowa poultry producer devastated by last spring’s avian flu. Talk to a small business owner who struggles to make ends meet due to increasing health care costs and rising tax burdens.

We must face some undeniable facts. State revenues continue to come in below projections. The Ag economy is not as stable as in recent years due to lagging livestock and commodity prices. We also were dealt a significant blow last spring when the avian flu ravaged that sector of the economy. Colleagues, all of these factors affect Iowa’s state budget.

Senate Republicans will continue to stress the importance of controlled spending and treat our state budget as we do our family budget – which means we must not spend more than we receive. It is vital we do not overpromise only to under deliver.

We will discuss education at great lengths this legislative session – and we should. We must ensure we keep our promises and budget responsibly when it comes to education. There is too much at stake for our children and taxpayers if we fail to honor those commitments. Keeping our word to students and educators is essential.

It would be a disservice to our youth and businesses across the state if we do not offer them the means to compete in a global economy. Remember colleagues, the vehicle that drives the world economy is fueled locally, whether that is in Harlan, Shell Rock or Red Oak. It is essential to give job creators in our rural communities and all across Iowa the tools necessary to have a presence in a world marketplace, and then get out of their way so they can succeed.

Though the last winter storm may be a memory, the financial storm we face remains a present and constant concern. I ask you today to work with Senate Republicans to weather this storm. Together, we can accomplish great things in creating a legacy of opportunity for all Iowans and making our great state even stronger. Let’s Make it Happen!

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