– Week 13 –
This Week in the Senate
With the second major legislative deadline behind us, week thirteen brought forward the beginning of our work with the House on compromises and conversations to initiate agreement on legislation. We also hosted visitors to the Capitol on Monday from Iowa FIRST. Iowa FIRST inspires young people to be innovators and leaders in robotics and technology and is the main impetus for Lego Leagues in schools across the state. Members of FIRST from grades K-12 came to the Capitol and displayed their accomplishments for us in the rotunda. Technology and robotics are a growing industry and we want to support young Iowans in their pursuit of being leaders in this field. This is one reason why we passed Senate File 398 which would make robotics teams a state-sponsored activity, allowing them to receive support from the Department of Education. Wednesday brought visitors from Iowa College Aid, the state agency that seeks to make college a possibility for all Iowans through their financial aid awards given annually to students in all counties in Iowa.
Alignment and Reorganization
Process to Begin for State Government
This week Governor Reynolds signed SF 514, the state government alignment and reorganization bill. As I stated in a previous newsletter, this bill was the first major reorganization of Iowa state government in 40 years. The Governor’s thought behind the bill stemmed from the fact that if our federal government is able to operate with only 13 cabinet-level directors, then we should be able to as well. Her goal was to bring our number of directors down to a reasonably comparable 16. A lot was packed into this bill and it calls for much shifting and reorganization. The bill aims to increase efficiencies, with the predicted cost savings over the next four years estimated to be over $200 million.
SF 514 created many moving parts in state government. Because of these changes in process, the Senate started the appropriations process this week, moving several budget bills out of subcommittee and committee. These bills generally addressed the budget areas but left the fine details to be filled in after the Senate and House negotiate a budget agreement. Senate Republicans have set a budget target of $8.486 billion that aligns with that put forth by Governor Reynolds. As is typical, the House has set a target about $95 million higher than the governor and the Senate.
Along with being consistent with the target set by the governor, $8.486 billion represents a sustainable increase in spending for education and public safety, while also ensuring tax relief for hardworking Iowans. Iowa’s income tax rates have decreased from 8.98% to 6% this year in addition to the elimination of the tax on retirement income. By 2026 the income tax rate will be a flat 3.9%. We have been able to provide tax relief like this because of budgets like the one proposed this year. As I’ve stated before, disciplined spending ensures that we are able to keep our promises made to K-12 education and public safety and to ensure that Iowa tax payers are able to keep more of their hard earned money.
Recent Storms Wreak Havoc for Iowa Communities
Many communities in Iowa are experiencing the aftermath of a series of storms that began March 31. This week, Governor Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for a number of counties that experienced severe weather. These counties include Appanoose, Cedar, Clinton, Davis, Delaware, Des Moines, Dubuque, Grundy, Iowa, Jackson, Johnson, Keokuk, Linn, Lucas, Mahaska, Marion, Monroe, Wapello, Warren and Washington. This disaster proclamation means that qualifying residents can apply for the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program and the Disaster Case Management Program. These grants can help with home or car repairs, replacing clothing or food, temporary housing expenses, and disaster-related hardships and injuries. To learn more about these programs, you can visit: https://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs and www.iowacommunityaction.org.
Property Taxes Continue to be Discussed
Last week, I shared about the concern across the state with rapidly rising property taxes. This dramatic increase in property tax assessments is a concern we have heard about since last spring, and we’ve heard even more about over the last couple weeks. WalletHub recently released 2023’s Tax Burden By State, putting Iowa among the worst states for property tax burdens.
We have heard these concerns, and it is our primary focus as we head into these last scheduled weeks of the legislative session. Several proposals in the legislature to address these concerns and alleviate the burdens on Iowa property taxpayers are being considered in both chambers. As I mentioned last week, Senate Republicans are focused on getting to the core of the issue by simplifying and consolidating the number of levies used by local governments, limiting levies that seem open-ended for additional spending, reinstating hard levy caps, providing a series of controls to protect taxpayers, and eliminating loopholes abused by local governments to exceed limits that had been set by law. We are asking local governments to follow the Senate’s example. We are simply asking local governments to control spending, invest in important priorities, and give taxpayer money back to those who earned it. Senate Republicans have used these principles to guide us the last several years and it has served us well by placing us in a fiscally sound condition.
Governor Reynolds also signed Senate File 445 on Tuesday. It allows ten-member boards of review to meet in groups of at least three to hear assessment protest cases. This is similar to our Iowa legislative subcommittees, which get input on bills before they go before the full legislative committee. This would provide a mechanism by which a recommendation would be made to the full board for a final decision. With the number of Iowans preparing to protest their property tax assessments this year, this change will allow larger boards to hear more cases and get through more of them quickly. Sometimes being able to divide and conquer is a great way to increase efficiency.
Alive & Well
With hopes of making his town a better place, Fred Grunder, of Wilton, has opened up a gathering place called the Axe & Oak Whiskey House. He is currently open for beverage service, has recently added a full service kitchen and is working on an additional dining space addition. It is important to support small businesses like this to help boost the economy in our small town communities.