On Monday morning, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, gave opening remarks for Iowa Senate’s 2020 legislative session.
Read the transcript of Whitver’s remarks below:
Good morning Mister President, Minority Leader Petersen, and my colleagues in the Senate.
It is exciting to be back and ready to work for another legislative session. This will be my second full session as the majority leader in this chamber, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the members we have here and what we have accomplished so far, with more exciting changes to come. It truly is a great time to be an Iowan.
Iowa has more job openings right now than unemployed people to fill them. One of our challenges as legislators is to help people get the right skills to fill those jobs, with the education and training they need to succeed. We want people to be able to work and be productive members of our society, changing both their own lives and the lives of their family forever.
We’ve seen more dollars in the classroom for schools, reliable, sustainable spending each of the last three years. Every funding promise we have made to K-12 education, we have fully funded. Those promises are yielding results. Iowa has the highest high school graduation rate, highest average ACT score, and the highest rate of concurrent enrollment in the country.
The state budget, when we took the majority, had a deficit over $100 million, but now it has a surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to Forbes, Iowa is one of only a few states in America with a truly balanced budget, a budget surplus, instead of deficit. Iowa has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, and it is rated one of the top states for opportunity.
All these positive results did not happen by accident. They happened with the methodical and purposeful implementation of pro-growth policies: Policies to conservatively manage the state budget. Policies to make it easier to do business in Iowa. Policies to fully fund our commitments to education. And policies to reduce the tax burden, so Iowans can keep more of what they earn.
But we still have a long way to go in our race to be the best state in the country. We passed the largest tax cut in Iowa’s history. It was a huge reform package, and now that we are a few years into that plan, we are starting to see some of the results and benefits. And more needs to be done. We want to continue to reduce those rates to bring our state from the back of the pack to one of the states with the lowest rates. We can continue to do more to simplify and make taxes lower, fairer, and more efficient. But the ultimate goal is to ensure the people who work hard for their money are getting to keep more of it.
We implemented Future Ready Iowa last year to help address the skills gap, but work remains to be done to encourage those able-bodied Iowans on public assistance programs to join the workforce. A workforce that needs them to fill some of the 50,000 open jobs in our state.
At the end of the day, our goal is to implement policies that provide an opportunity for success for every human being who has chosen to call our state home, while cultivating an environment here to attract people outside Iowa to call our state home. We should be fixing the broken systems that hinder a person’s chance of being successful.
An old Latin proverb reads, “fortune favors the bold.” I want to urge my colleagues to continue to seek out bold solutions to improving this state. We have pursued a bold agenda and the results speak for themselves. If we don’t take this chance to make big changes to how our state runs, should we even be here? Bold change is the legacy I want to leave and if we continue to pursue those reforms, it will be how we are remembered.
As we continue to build that legacy here, we want to make sure we are focused on policy we believe is right and will move our state forward. We will continue to challenge the status quo and implement bold reforms.
What I like most about my colleagues and this chamber is that we work from the ground up. We work on the issues important to our constituents, their families, and our communities. And the most important part of this is, we want our time here to be meaningful. We want to make changes that aren’t just going to fix a problem for a year or two. We want the laws we pass to make positive changes for generations to come. We have the opportunity here to really change people’s lives for the better and improve the environment for them to succeed.
Now, let’s get to work!
Below is the transcript of Schneider’s opening remarks:
Good morning and welcome to the second session of the 88th General Assembly.
As I said last session, I am honored to serve as President of the Iowa Senate. I appreciate the trust you have placed in me, and I will work hard every day to fulfill the obligations of this office.
Every year, fifty senators from different parts of the state gather in this chamber. We have different backgrounds. We represent different constituencies. We are from different generations. But we share a common goal – to make Iowa an even better state in which to live, work, and raise a family. I want to thank each of you for your service to our great state. I look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.
We begin this session with our state in a strong fiscal position. As a result of responsible budgeting during the last three sessions, our reserve accounts are full, and we have a significant budget surplus.
In times like this, there is pressure to spend. While there are places where new investments make sense, it’s important for us to remember that we are spending taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers expect us to spend responsibly. And if the state receives more revenue than is necessary to fund generally agreed-upon priorities, those same taxpayers expect us to return the surplus to them.
The conventional wisdom among the press corps, political pundits, and even some legislators, is that it is not possible to accomplish big things during the session immediately preceding an election. I reject this notion outright. In fact, we passed the largest income tax cut in state history just two years ago during an election year. We even adjourned after our per diem days had expired.
The reality is that the challenges we face do not wait for a non-election year to confront us. We face them every year we are in session. Chief among them this session is the shortage of skilled workers in our state. This stifles our economic growth and keeps us from reaching our full potential. We must make Iowa a more attractive destination for talent.
Iowa has a lot to offer individuals, families, and businesses. We have an outstanding education system, an educated workforce, a strong work ethic, low unemployment, outdoor recreational opportunities, and friendly people.
Those advantages alone, however, have not been enough to train, keep, and recruit as many people as we need to fuel our growing economy. There is more we can do.
First, we can improve our tax climate. We know a state’s tax climate can attract people. It can also drive them away. According to the Tax Foundation, Iowa ranks 42nd in business tax climate. The income tax cut bill we passed two years ago has improved our ranking, and it will continue to improve as the bill phases in over time. Still, it is a barrier to growth and an area where we must improve. The more we can lower income taxes, the sooner Iowans will be able to pay off student loans, buy a home, start a family, save for their children’s education, or put aside money for retirement.
Second, we can remove barriers to work. Excessive occupational licensing is the proverbial government red tape of our era. Unelected bureaucrats should not impede people who move to Iowa from working in an occupation for which they were licensed in their home state. If someone who moves to Iowa is a doctor, electrician or other licensed professional, whether they come from Boston or Bangladesh, Iowa should welcome them to the workforce as quickly as possible.
Finally, we can improve how our assistance programs work. Our programs should promote work and career development. Unfortunately, for Iowans receiving childcare benefits, that is not always the case. Far too often, I have heard from constituents and business leaders who say people turn down opportunities to advance in their careers because they risk losing their childcare benefits. This is unacceptable. We need to find a way to reform this benefit to allow people receiving it to have a better shot at their American dream.
While the shortage of skilled workers is a major challenge for us this session, it is not the only one we face. We must continue to find opportunities to position rural Iowa to compete in the 21st Century. We must continue to improve access to mental health services.
These and other issues we will address this session are big challenges, but that does not mean they are insurmountable. We can achieve great things for our fellow Iowans if we work together.
I wish everyone in this chamber, including the staff, clerks, and pages, a happy, healthy, and productive legislative session. I look forward to working with all of you to make our state an even better place.
God bless you all, and God bless the great state of Iowa.