As officials finalize election results, it is clear that Republicans have regained their footing in the state. The challenges left behind by the outgoing administration are legion, so the new legislature is going to have its hands full working immediate tactical problems like balancing the budget and figuring out how they are going to make up for all the one time money that is no longer in the federal to state pipeline. While the legislature sorts out the “must do’s” perhaps one could suggest an idea or two for the Governor Branstad to consider.
The big picture suggests the new governor look long and hard at economic development for the state and lead development and implementation of programs that are likely to lead to an economically healthy state.
The current administration has leaned toward picking economic winners and losers, has tried to prop up out of date labor arrangements through Fair Share, Project Labor Agreements, Prevailing Wage and other union-friendly legislation and has done nothing about containing costs related to public unions in the state.
Our once-excellent education system is eroding more every day and tax reform seems to be on the back burner. Finally, nothing has been done about controlling the impact and costs of illegal immigration. Thus, perhaps the new governor ought to appoint a task force to come up with ideas that the legislature could work through in due course.
The task force idea is not a new one, and as is often the case, these blue ribbon panels often are given the answer before the questions are even asked. Witness this sham operation going on with the “deficit panel” stood up by President Obama. One knows with the same certainty of the sun rising tomorrow that they will be recommending a value added tax, cuts in military spending and will have nothing to say about restructuring entitlement programs. Like Jeopardy, the answer is already known, so they respond with the question.
In order for Iowa to regain its footing, the governor’s economic development task force needs to address three areas—tax reform, education reform and immigration reform. Tax reform is perhaps most critical as one has to structure programs that allow for the elimination of corporate taxes, implementation of more reasonable property taxes and ways to be more competitive with our Midwest neighbors.
In my part of the state, South Dakota and Nebraska offer stiff competition for keeping businesses on the east side of the Missouri. This situation, though perhaps not as dramatically played out in other parts of the state, must be addressed. Iowa right now is simply unable to attract businesses. And this notion of attracting green energy jobs (more windmills) to Iowa as a key to revival is based more on wishing than on economic reality. If the State of Iowa will put its faith in free markets and a friendly business climate, there will be more jobs than we can fill and more tax revenue than we can spend.
The second leg on the stool is education reform. First and foremost, educational goals need to be established for the next generation of Iowans. Then, the educational architecture of the state needs to be changed to facilitate achieving these goals. Nothing should be left off the table.
Again, market operations should be encouraged so that all students in Iowa have access to educational experiences that match their needs and interests. Home schooling and private education are not the enemies of public education, just of teacher unions. These venues for education should be viewed as supplemental and complementary to public education.
Further, innovative school structures such as magnet schools, charter schools and centers of excellence in our rural schools should be considered. Aligning student interests with curricular offerings makes a lot of sense. Of course, no educational reform will be workable without accountability in the classroom. This means that teachers and students must be accountable.
Teachers should be evaluated based on inputs from peers, administrators, students, parents and outside evaluators. Students and parents should be held accountable for behavior and performance. If schools have good assessment programs, implementing merit promotion and pay systems seems a logical outcome. One has to realize that keeping the current structure in place is simply giving in to special interests.
The third leg is immigration reform. Regardless of one’s source, the costs of illegal immigration in the State of Iowa are staggering. The main cost drains come in the areas of public safety, education and health. Two of these are mandated by the Supreme Court of the land, so finding ways to mitigate those costs is problematic, but not impossible.
Building a regulatory regime similar to that found in the State of Arizona, demanding federal support for existing immigration laws and focusing on workplace enforcement penalties should go a long way toward relieving the erosion of state gross domestic product that is directly attributable to illegal immigration.
There is one more thing to consider before leaving this topic—the state of Iowa has lost enough population over the past decade that the state will lose a congressional seat in 2012. The real population losses that have taken place have been masked by an influx of illegal immigrants. Those who have left were educated and were well prepared to enter the workforce. Generally, those who have displaced them have no education, work skills or language skills. The tradeoff has led to a less able and less productive state.
None of these three areas can be addressed in isolation. Each must be taken on and all initiatives must be integrated. A list of priorities and plans needs to be developed that can be given to the governor and the legislature to consider. If the governor puts a task force together that is charged to do what is best for Iowa, perhaps the end result will be something acceptable to both sides of the aisle and an economically secure Iowa for generations to come.
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