(DES MOINES)—Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) delivered opening remarks to the Iowa House of Representatives today. The following are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Welcome back to all for the second session of the Eighty-Fourth General Assembly. A warm welcome to family, friends and all Iowans who are with us here today.
One year ago many of you were brand new to the House, taking the oath of office for the first time; swearing to support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Iowa, and to faithfully discharge the duties of a representative. After serving in one of the longest sessions recorded in the history of the State of Iowa, each one of you have gained a great deal of valuable experience. It’s not just the amount of time you put in working toward solutions for Iowans, but also the relationships you built with Governor Branstad, the Senate, and each other that have contributed to this experience. And, after overcoming the various obstacles of last session to find common ground on many issues, I am confident that we will have a productive session that moves Iowa forward.
As we work our way through this session, it is important to maintain focus on why we are here, who we serve and who is in control. It is the 3 million people that make up the great state of Iowa that we work for. Their concerns deserve our respect and full attention and we must continue to incorporate their ideas and make it easier for them to participate in their government.
During the interim, we made decisions with these thoughts in mind. Today, I am pleased to officially introduce to you and more importantly – to the people of Iowa – the new Iowa House video streaming capability. Positioned throughout the chamber are video cameras. These cameras will, for the first time, provide Iowans the ability to access live video and audio of House floor debate and its proceedings through the internet. By implementing this system and providing more convenient access to the legislative process, we are increasing our accountability to Iowans by simply being more transparent and open.
Additionally, working with the Senate and the Legislative Services Agency, we have physically rearranged Capitol offices to create more space to conduct sub-committee and full committee meetings. For too long, important subcommittee meetings were held in over-crowded, noisy and generally inconvenient areas with limited space, making it difficult for members of the public to participate. Recognizing this problem we co-located offices and consolidated rarely used space to make more room for public meetings and public access. Beginning today Rooms 304, 304(1), and 308, all located upstairs behind the House chamber, are available for subcommittee meetings, full committee meetings and other public functions. It is my hope these changes will alleviate congestion in the building and create more opportunities for individuals to engage in the legislative process.
This session House Republicans will continue to advance policies to improve the economy and create an environment that encourages employers to keep and create jobs right here in Iowa. The top priority of this body should be to work together to ensure each Iowa family is better off this year than they were last year. By concentrating on three things every day – jobs, savings and certainty – we can achieve this goal.
Once again, we will attempt to overhaul Iowa’s property tax system, saving money for all Iowa property owners. Now is the time for real and substantial property tax reform. Over the last ten years, the amount of property taxes paid by Iowans has increased by 1.75 billion dollars. Local budgets have grown as much as 74 percent during this time. Iowa families and Iowa employers are struggling with this burden and furthermore, it is impeding job growth. It is time for the Governor, the House and Senate; Republicans and Democrats to work together to provide Iowans with meaningful property tax relief. This will not be easy, and will require sacrifice from everyone involved. We must break with the past and come up with bold solutions to this difficult issue. Local governments and the state must partner in this effort for it to be successful.
Last year, the House proved its sincerity in this regard by passing an increase in the state’s share of the school foundation formula. House Republicans also insisted that the state fully fund all property tax credits. Thereby removing this burden from local governments and property owners. Now, it is time now for local governments to bring solutions to the table as well. If we are not removing taxing authority we will never achieve true tax relief. Everyone agrees we must reduce the property tax burden on Iowa employers in order to help create jobs. Quality jobs that will develop into careers. My hope, my expectation is that by the end of this session, we will have done so.
The last point I’ll make regarding Iowans excessive property tax burden is this. Last year during property tax discussions many House members highlighted the concern of shifting taxes to Iowa’s homeowners. This was mentioned by both Republicans and Democrats and the concern is a real one. But remember this also, simply voting no and standing on the sideline will cause one of the largest shifts in this state’s history. The rollback has turned into the roll-up and the burden on homeowners is growing at a substantially faster rate than what their incomes are growing. We must address this. The bottom line is this: doing nothing is a huge tax increase on all Iowans.
We must also build upon the real progress we made last session on the budget and getting our fiscal house in order. Because of our good work, state government no longer spends more than it takes in. Instead of spending $1.18 for each on-going dollar, we now spend less than 97 cents for each on going dollar. On-going expenses are now balanced with on-going revenue and we have reduced wasteful government spending. Make no mistake though, this job is not done and there continues to be more wasteful spending to root out. Saving taxpayer dollars is the right and the responsible thing to do. Iowans deserve and expect a state government that uses their dollars wisely and in the most effective and efficient manner possible. There is still much work to do in this area.
Currently, the federal government provides Iowa with approximately $6 billion in aid each year. These resources are used for ongoing services many Iowans expect and rely upon. Because of the gridlock and uncertainty in Washington, DC, it is imperative we keep the state in a strong financial position because we do not know if all or any of that assistance will be there tomorrow.
This session, you will hear from those who want to grow government and spend more, you will hear that we have a “billion dollar surplus” at our disposal. This is not accurate. Currently, there is $600 million in one-time cash reserve funds, which by law we are required to maintain, if for no other reason so that the state can make payments such as school aid and Medicaid on time. There is also $250 million in a one-time ending balance left over from this current fiscal year. It is irresponsible and short-sighted to spend those one-time funds for ongoing services. Doing so would be to take a step backward and return to the bad budgeting practices of the past. House Republicans are committed to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and will continue working toward a responsible and efficient state government that does not spend more than we take in.
We will take additional steps to strengthen and provide certainty to Iowa’s employers. So those businesses, the true job creators, can hire Iowans for positions and careers designed for the long haul. We must make sure state government is not getting in the way of job growth. Whether they are burdensome regulations or any other reason.
Last year, we sent a number of bipartisan measures over to the Senate aimed at moving Iowa’s economy forward. In fact, 83 percent of the non-budget bills this chamber passed had bi-partisan support. Regrettably, few of these proposals received a fair hearing in the Senate. We hope Senators take a second look at the House Files pending in their chamber.
We must make progress towards resolving the issues that make our current mental health delivery system inefficient and less effective than Iowans deserve. This is a multi-year project, but I expect significant progress to be made here.
Governor Branstad has sent us a rather significant education reform package. I expect this body to give thoughtful consideration and move a proposal forward to the Senate. Iowa’s K-12 education system is another area where Iowans have grown less satisfied and they expect us to find opportunities for improvement. Our system is very expensive and holds very little accountability for any of the participants. Every Iowa family deserves the opportunity for their child to receive the very best education possible.
Obviously there will be many other issues of concern this General Assembly will tackle. I trust that we will continue to do a thoughtful review of proposals and quality subcommittee and committee work.
I hope you are as optimistic and enthusiastic about this session as I am. We have the ability to do very positive things for the people of Iowa. With a little patience and commonsense, I am confident we will work with one another to make Iowa a better place to live and do business. It is what Iowans sent us here to do; they expect it and deserve it.
Thank you and let’s get to work.
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