House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Garner) delivered opening remarks to the Iowa House of Representatives today. The following are her remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House, and to all who are listening and watching, welcome back to the Iowa House of Representatives.
It is an honor to be here today, in this beautiful chamber to do the work of the great people of Iowa. The excitement of the opening day of session never seems to fade, and this year is no exception… I am excited to be back. I know you share my anticipation of the session before us.
With such a short interim, many of you probably feel like you never left. Some of you are probably wondering whether you can plan a family vacation this June… Well I sure hope so!
But make no mistake; we remain resolved to complete the job that hardworking Iowans sent us here to do.
A year ago I stood here with a warning… a reminder that we pay attention to the wavering confidence the public has in their elected officials. Then and now, we should be mindful that we were not sent here to “bicker” with each other, or to simply kick the can down the road. We are not here to be at war with ourselves like they are in Washington. Iowans expect their representatives to listen and be accountable. When there is a problem, we address it. Iowans can be proud that we come together and deliver results.
The process may have taken longer last session, but it is results for which we will be judged, and when it comes to results, Iowans can be proud. We faced a billion dollar budget gap last year due to overspending and the use of one-time money for ongoing expenses, but we worked hard to pass a budget that puts us on a healthy path long-term. We eliminated budgeting gimmicks and passed a two year budget. Most importantly, we held ourselves accountable to Iowans by making good on our commitment to not spend more than we take in. It is important that we recognize this for what it is though, a good start. We can do better.
I want families throughout Iowa to know we understand that they have had to make tough decisions when it comes to their budgets and their priorities. I believe they expect us to do the same.
Last year we established the Taxpayers Trust Fund. Excess revenues will go into the fund to be returned to the rightful owners, the taxpayers, instead of being used to inflate spending and grow government. This will create stability by curtailing rollercoaster budgeting which results in record spending one year and across-the-board cuts the next. We will fight any effort to scoop this fund.
We made a commitment to the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa that they would have their voices heard and be a priority as we make policy decisions. The Taxpayers Trust Fund is a huge step in the right direction, but we must continue to hold ourselves accountable and strive to do more.
Iowans deserve an efficient and effective government. Priorities must be addressed and waste eliminated. This means a constant review of programs to determine whether they are serving Iowans well and making good use of their tax dollars.
With that in mind, this Legislature has recognized that we can no longer avoid addressing the major issues facing Iowa’s mental health and disability services system. During the interim, hundreds of Iowans were involved in an unprecedented effort to redesign our mental health system moving it into the 21st Century. We will adopt a new system that more fairly meets the needs of those served while protecting the property taxpayer.
There are real concerns over the effectiveness of the state’s abuse registries. These registries are important and must serve Iowans well. We will address this problem in a way that balances the due process rights of those accused with the need to protect our children and dependent adults.
Nearly 60 percent of the state budget goes to fund our education system. We have made a genuine commitment to education in this state. Despite this investment, students are not achieving the outcomes they both deserve and need to compete in a global market place. For too long the approach to addressing this has been limited to increasing financial resources.
Businesses large and small have warned us that in order for them to grow, they need a well-educated and highly-skilled workforce. Governor Branstad showed leadership by calling on all Iowans to engage in revitalizing education. This session we will take a comprehensive look at how we can be more effective in educating our children.
This body has talked about property tax reform for as long as I have been here. Meanwhile the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa have been hurting. Over the last ten years school rates have increased 60 percent… county rates 64 percent… and city rates are up 74 percent. Over that same time period, personal income only grew 46 percent.
The simple truth is, we cannot continue down this path. We must fight for all classes of property taxpayers and avoid the ugly politics of pitting one group against the other. Businesses large and small are hurting from paying the second highest commercial property tax rate in the nation. Homeowners face years of increases due to current law on the rollback and past budgeting practices.
We need to listen to Iowans and job-creators who are telling us that this burden is a dark cloud casting doubt on the competitiveness of Iowa. We need to make a commitment to provide substantive and significant property tax relief and reform in which everyone benefits. Iowans want action on this, and we should respect their plea by committing ourselves to a renewed effort.
I often hear how well Iowa is doing compared to some of the other states. Our budget is healthier than most. Our debt is lower than most. Our unemployment rate is lower than most. But is that good enough? Don’t Iowans expect more?
I believe in the endless pursuit of perfection. While we can never truly achieve perfection, if we strive for that goal, we will never fall in to the trap of settling for Iowa being merely “better than”. I believe in Iowa’s ability to not just be better than most. I believe that we can be the best.
Imagine an Iowa with the most robust job market in the nation. Imagine an Iowa with the healthiest and most stable budget in the nation. Imagine an Iowa with not just the best education system in the United States, but the best in the world. Imagine an Iowa that energizes innovation and investment with the most competitive tax and regulatory environment in the nation.
Imagine what these things would mean for the future of Iowa. An Iowa where job-creators want to invest and expand. Where our opportunities are only exceeded by our abilities.
This will not be easy and it will not happen overnight, but if we have the courage to provide leadership on these important issues, I believe we can renew that which makes Iowa such a special and blessed place.
With that in mind, let’s get back to work.
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