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January 14th, 2013
 

Iowa House, Senate Republican Leaders Talk of Returning Money to Taxpayers

As the Iowa House began the 2013 legislative session on Monday, there was a lot of talk among the media and Democrats of a “budget surplus” and how to make the best use of that money. During a late-morning media conference, Iowa Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) responded to a reporter’s question about what to do with the budget surplus.

“We have an overpayment that Iowans have made,” Paulsen said. “We clearly can run state government without that. We need to find a way to return that. I don’t know anything about a surplus. We have an overpayment on behalf of the taxpayers of Iowa. Unquestionably, it provides some opportunities and one of the most obvious ones is to find an opportunity to get that returned to Iowans.”

You can watch video of the news conference here:

Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) echoed Paulsen’s sentiments regarding taxpayer dollars during his speech to the assembly. You can view Dix’ remarks, as well as those of Speaker Paulsen and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) below:

Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix

“Thank you, Madame President.

I am proud and honored to stand here today and address my fellow legislators and Iowans. Like every other hard-working citizen, those of us in the Senate wear many different hats: Those of a spouse, a parent, a farmer, a small business owner, a legislator, and a taxpayer.

Regardless of the hat, we know the recent years have presented great challenges that require difficult decisions to be made by families across Iowa. Belts have been tightened and budgets have been cut. Much like our family budgets, the state has been living within its means with solid success. We can and will continue to do this with sound fiscal leadership and smart planning.

Our state coffers are full, full with dollars that have come from family budgets. As legislators, we must realize and appreciate this is not our money. It’s not the state’s money. It’s yours, and yours, and yours!

Every decision we make this year must be firmly rooted in our accountability to the hard working people of Iowa who pay their own bills and the bills of government. We owe them a budget that continues to spend less than we take in and protects our state in the event of a “rainy day,” while allowing them to keep more of their own money.

As we work to enact meaningful legislation this year, it is important to keep in mind that we are all Iowans, working toward a better life in the state we love. Part of that better life is a lower tax burden. Not simply a shuffling of burden, but a real reduction of their tax burden that empowers Iowans to grow small businesses, educate their children, and save for their future. We all trust and believe in the quality of the character of Iowans and know that empowering them is how we best serve them all.

Providing a top-tier education system is vital to our future growth and success as a state. As legislators we hear from Iowa’s largest employers, our small business owners, the heads of our Universities, parents, from every sector of our state, they all want to make certain we do everything we can to improve Iowa’s education system. To prepare Iowa students to not simply go to good schools, or the best in the Midwest, or even in our country. We need to have the best schools anywhere so Iowa graduates and Iowa employers can compete in the global marketplace.

This year, like ever year in the Iowa Legislature, we will see important legislation cross our desks, attend many meetings discussing a variety of issues, debate bills that are near and dear to our hearts as well as bills to which we have no personal connection. At the end of the day, we were all sent to Des Moines to get a job done, serve the people of Iowa who are affected by the consequences and pay the bills we incur.

We are all working to do what we think is right. We will work together to accomplish the task at-hand and help leave Iowa a better place than we found it. We owe that to future generations.

Thank you.”

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen

“Welcome members of the 85th General Assembly.  Friends, family, Iowans, it’s good to have you here today as we begin another legislative session.

First of all, thank you.  Thank you for the unique honor of being your Speaker.  This is an honor I do not take lightly or for granted.  This body is a reflection of the great people of Iowa and I will strive every day to uphold the honor of this great institution and all that it represents.

A special welcome to the newly-elected members — this job brings unique responsibilities and a special trust, one that I know you appreciate.  The veteran members of this chamber look forward to your energy and the new ideas you bring to the process.

I want to take a moment to thank my family; especially my wife Cathy and our children Kassandra, Kylere, Kale and Keith.  It is because of your love and support that I am able to serve the people of our house district and our state in this role.  Thank you for your understanding and sharing in the sacrifice of our time together.

As we walk up the steps to do our work in this historic and beautiful building, we are keenly aware of those that have come before us and the history made within these chambers.  As we do the people’s business, we should reflect upon the progress that has been made so that we build on these successes and make decisions that move Iowa forward and make Iowa strong.

There is little doubt that we have significant challenges and difficult decisions ahead of us.  However if we take the time to listen to Iowans and seek their input, we will do what is right.  If we always remember where we come from and who we work for, Iowa will continue on the path to prosperity.

Coming off an election cycle, we have all spent a great deal of time meeting with Iowans in our districts, getting their thoughts and making commitments to them.  Two of the most prevalent issues Iowans heard from the campaigns this summer revolve around state spending and comprehensive tax relief.   Republicans and Democrats alike ran on these issues and Iowans expect action.

Two years ago, the state faced a $900 million budget shortfall.  Today, we have an ending balance of $688 million and our budget reserves are full.  Plain and simple, we are in the current budget situation due to the fiscal discipline insisted upon by this chamber and the leadership shown by Governor Branstad over the last two sessions.

This is a fundamental change in legislative decision making, driven not by us, but by Iowans.  This is a significant departure from how government operated in the past where every dollar was spent, even some we didn’t have.

Our 99 percent expenditure limitation law has served us well.  However, this law allows the Legislature and the governor to spend more than the state collects.  This loophole is one House Republicans will not exploit.  The only way to ensure sustainable and responsible state spending is to spend no more than we have – that is to say we must balance ongoing revenue with ongoing expenses.

House Republicans have instilled a fundamental culture change and we must not, we will not, retreat now.

This chamber must stick to the principles used to get our fiscal house in order:

We will not spend more money than the state takes in;

We will not use one-time money to pay for on-going expenses;

We will not intentionally underfund entitlement programs to balance the state’s budget;

We will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.

There are some who see the state’s ending balance as a giant pot of money, and they have already begun devising ways to spend it.  If we were to spend everything we were allowed to under law, the state would need to see nine percent growth in 2014 revenues just to maintain that level of funding.  This is unsustainable and should caution everyone making spending plans.

Let me be very clear – the ending balance is an overpayment by the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa.  It is their money and they should get it back.  In order to continue on the path of sound budgeting we must not back up from this pledge.   We must not use this overpayment to feed government’s appetite for growth.

Representative Soderberg, Iowans look forward to your committee bringing us a budget that conforms to these principles.

Most, if not all of us in this chamber have also said we need to go to work on reducing taxes, specifically property taxes.  I would say that time is long since overdue.

A while back I received an email from Patty, a small business owner in my hometown of Hiawatha.  This business has been locally owned and operated for more than 25 years.  Patty stated, “I think your message that Iowa is open for business sounds great, but is questionable.  Last year our property taxes went up over 14 percent.  This should be illegal.  It has become difficult for our small business to continue to compete in such a climate.  We need new equipment and more employees.”

Our job creators want to hire, they want to invest in our communities.  They are being stifled and burdened by our government and their taxes.  It’s up to us to change this.

Now is the time for action, not more lip service. Iowans grow weary of campaign promises during election summers that turn into roadblocks and partisan bickering during session winters.

Some talk about giving one group of people this credit and another group that credit.  This is neither comprehensive nor predictable tax relief and reform.  It is arbitrary, restrictive, and unreliable.  We need comprehensive reform, reform for ALL Iowans.

Additionally, local governments are projected to collect more in property taxes than ever before.  The rollback has turned into the roll up and homeowners are paying the price in a big way.   From Fiscal Year 2012 to 2013 alone, local governments will take an ADDITIONAL $100 million from Iowans.  We must act to address this rapid growth in government spending.  If we do not, the hardworking taxpayers are again getting the short end of the stick.

During the previous General Assembly, this chamber came together with Governor Branstad and passed four property tax reform bills in a bipartisan manner only to watch them die in the Senate.  The 85th General Assembly must do better.

I say again, House Republicans are not dug in on any one plan – we are open to any suggestion, but it must deliver significant and real property tax savings and include all classes of property. The focus cannot be on protecting and maximizing government revenues.

Representative Sands, Iowans look forward to your committee bringing us a property tax reform and relief bill that includes all classifications of property, that moves us away from having the third highest commercial property taxes in the nation and the 16th highest residential property taxes in the nation.  Taxpayers need relief they can count on.

All of the proposals we work on must be directed at creating a stronger Iowa ? a strong economy, strong budget leadership and strong schools and communities.

House Republicans will:

Offer meaningful, inclusive, and reliable property tax relief and reforms.

Eliminate job-killing red tape, burdensome regulations and declare dead any bills that threaten economic growth such as repealing Right to Work.

Advance education reforms that offer accountability, innovation and choice for parents.  We are not interested in simply throwing more money at a system that drives us to mediocrity.  We are interested in identifying creative solutions that raise student achievement, empower teachers and better prepare young Iowans to compete in a global marketplace.  These ideas must be helpful to teachers – not just another bureaucratic burden.

Create a one-stop shop for business startups using existing departments to streamline the process and encourage entrepreneurship.

Allow hardworking Iowa taxpayers to keep more of their money.  We will streamline Iowa?s income tax system and lower rates and continue to put any overpayment of tax dollars into the Taxpayer Trust Fund and return it directly to the pockets of Iowans.

This is not Washington, D.C.  We do not offer ultimatums and push things off until they’re about to go over a cliff.  We’re Iowans.  We deal with our issues head on, and in a way that moves our state forward.  We must resist any urge to kick the can any further down the road.  Iowans chose a Republican House, a Democrat Senate and working with Governor Branstad, we have a real opportunity to achieve these goals.

We must not retreat from the challenges that face us – we must instead offer fundamental changes to government on behalf of the taxpayers of Iowa.

Lastly, and I mentioned this two years ago, but want to reiterate it. Later today we will be choosing the desks that will be assigned to each of us for the next two years.  I mention this to make this point:  while that is where we will be assigned and where we will work, these are not our desks.  They belong to the 30,000 Iowans back home which we represent; they just let us sit in them. We must keep this in mind.

Now, let’s get to work.

Thank you and may God bless our work in this chamber and the great state of Iowa.”

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer

“Thank you Mr. Speaker!  Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House, and guests, welcome to the 85th General Assembly.

It was humbling to walk into the Capitol this morning, walking past so much history, with the realization that I once again have been given the privilege of serving my neighbors and my state.

To the people of my district, thank you for this opportunity. I will humbly work to exceed the oath I have just taken. To the members of my caucus, thank you for entrusting me to once again serve as your majority leader. Our duty is to the people we serve, let the history encased in this building be a reminder of that.

A special thank you to my family. Without your support, and often your own sacrifices, I would not be able to serve.

We have a lot of new faces in the chamber today. I am looking forward to getting to know and work with each of you. In this chamber I see a group of people with diverse experiences and unique paths, which have all led to this place today.  It is the convergence of our unique perspectives with which Iowans anticipate we will tackle the tough issues facing our state.

We are all here to do important work on behalf of Iowans. We should not be afraid to share ideas. We should not be afraid to debate. It is healthy for ideas in this building to receive a spirited discussion and vetting. We should embrace a civil and open dialogue.

Each and every one of you should be proud of the responsibility your constituents have entrusted you with.  Do not let the hectic nature of session days obscure your purpose.

I am afraid that our leaders in Washington may have lost that focus. People in Iowa and around the country are losing their faith in government. They are losing faith in the ability of good men and women to tackle issues head on.

They see a Congress afraid to debate issues openly or operate transparently by passing a budget. They see runaway spending as the nation’s debt burden reaches nearly inconceivable levels.  They watch health care costs skyrocket yet no reforms to slow it.

They see lip service paid to the burden of overregulation only to watch onerous rules continue to proliferate under overzealous agencies. Our farmers are busy feeding the world and yet doubt is cast over their industry because of the failure to pass a farm bill.

The so-called “fiscal cliff” epitomized why so many are losing faith. Allegedly, Washington was finally forced to confront its own fiscal crisis. The result? More taxes, MORE debt, and they kicked as many cans down the road as they could.

If you feel anything like me then you are probably ready to tell them to get out of our way and let the states handle it!

It is my hope that the 85th General Assembly of Iowa may serve as an example of the best in public service. Iowans can be proud that we do not have the same problems that plague Washington.

In fact, we have the opportunity to show Washington what happens when we focus not on our differences, but on our common goals. Let’s work together to identify the problems we face and focus on solutions.

An area where we should be able to come together is educating our youth. There was a time when the education system in Iowa evoked pride. Today however, it raises mostly concern.

We are concerned about the quality and rigor of the education our children are receiving. We are concerned that students are not graduating with the mastery necessary to succeed in college. We are concerned that our students are not graduating with the skills needed to enter the workforce and that increasingly our students must compete with not just those from other states, but other nations.

We must be resolved to address our education system. We should be open to new approaches and focused on measureable results. If we continue to fall behind, our children will find it difficult to compete and our employers will be left to look elsewhere for a skilled workforce.

Revitalizing our education system is one of the great opportunities of this General Assembly.

The citizens of Iowa have told us they are unhappy with the unsustainable growth of property taxes. If we continue to do nothing, our commercial rates will continue to drive away business, and homeowners will bear the burden of historic increases thanks to the roll up. Most of us in the room recognized that and campaigned on addressing it.

It is time for the campaign rhetoric to become action. As we do so, we must acknowledge our own poor record of funding property tax credits. We must also appreciate concerns that property tax cuts could shift the burden to other classes of property.

Property tax relief and reform can take many forms. We should be open to many ideas. However, as recognition of our own shortcomings we should ensure that it is significant, predictable and avoids any shift while benefitting all classes of property.

President Ronald Reagan is famous for saying “the problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.” I think we can update that for Iowa in 2013. The problem is not that the state spends too little, the problem is that we collect too much!

We worked hard over the last two years to implement some common sense principles into the budgeting process. Thanks to the hard work of Iowans and these sound budgeting practices, we find the state’s finances in a healthy position.

This is tenuous however, so we must be vigilant. This starts by sticking to our budgeting principles of not spending more than we take in, not balancing the budget by intentionally underfunding obligations and not using one time funds to pay for ongoing expenses.

We can build on our success by adding another principle. We should return unused tax dollars back to the taxpayers of Iowa. The state is funding its obligations.  Bipartisan budgets over the last two years have ensured that. Yet we have an ending balance.

Rather than looking for ways to spend that money, we should give it back to whom it belongs. It is the hard-working taxpayers of Iowa who earned that money and it is they who can best invest it back into our state. Please resist the urge to grow government with that money, it might not always be there.

At a time when the federal government is fighting over how to take more money, I look forward to spending our time on how to return it. Which is why I think Iowa is positioned to be a leader in the nation and to provide a shining example of the best in public service.

Again, it is truly an honor to be back in this beautiful Capitol building. Welcome back to the people’s House! Let’s get to work!

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”


About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for TheIowaRepublican.com.




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