This week, the new Legislative Session got underway as new Legislators were sworn into office, and priorities were established by leadership of both parties, both chambers and by the Governor. It was a week filled with ceremony, as I was invited to escort the Governor Branstad from his office to deliver his Condition of the State address. Next week the real work will begin. And that work will include some very difficult decisions, some necessary compromises, and a solid look at the priorities of the state of Iowa.
Committee assignments have been made, and I have been named to several. I will serve this year on the Local Government Committee, the Commerce Committee, the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and I will serve as Ranking Member of the Senate Education Committee.
One of the most difficult pieces of the 2015 Legislative Session will be the budget. As we look forward to establishing appropriations for FY16, we face the heavy weight of a structural deficit before spending an additional dime on priorities. Built-in commitments from the previous General Assembly – through property tax relief, comprehensive education reform, and increases in Medicaid spending – already exceed the estimated increase in state revenue for the upcoming budget. The order of the day will be to identify the priorities of the state and match our limited resources to meet them.
During his Condition of the State address, Governor Branstad identified the need to improve our infrastructure and provide necessary funding to rebuild our crumbling rural roads and bridges. This idea rings true in District 14. The question is how do we pay for what we all see as a priority?
Many say the only fair and sustainable option is to increase the fuel tax statewide. I feel we can take creative steps in providing sustainable, long-term funding that addresses the infrastructure most in need of maintenance. I have filed three bills that would 1) provide immediate relief to counties in addressing bridge restoration, 2) provide local control and revenue possibilities for cities and counties, and 3) offer motorists a choice in registration to increase the revenue into the RUTF. I look forward to being a part of the solution that meets the need while being responsible to taxpayers.
Within committee work, there is much to be done early for education. During our organizational committee meeting, I identified several issues the Iowa Legislature should do to support school districts in District 14 and across the state. The legislature needs to address supplemental state aid for our public schools for the upcoming budget year, as well as for the following fiscal year. We need to get aid established so that districts may begin work on their own budgets to meet statutory requirements. We will also need to address the issue of school start date, rural transportation, and take a good look at how gifted education is carried out at the state and local level. Student mental health and bullying will also likely be topics within education this year.