The 2014 Iowa Legislature begins a new session Monday morning. Unlike last year, when unprecedented bipartisan agreement was reached on property tax reform, education reform and healthcare, this year’s legislature is unlikely to tackle a large amount of significant legislation.
“The budget will likely be a major discussion this year as it is in most sessions,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It is important to recognize that agriculture has had some great years which have provided an increase in state revenue. We need to make adjustments now to prepare what the future may hold in regards to revenue.”
Many legislators believe this session will wrap up relatively quickly and not go beyond the scheduled 100 days. That would be a welcome change from recent years. However, lawmakers still plan to use the session to push their priorities.
“Although I agree that this will likely be a relatively short session, we still have work to do,” said Rep. Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights). “We will continue to be diligent in balancing the state budget and keeping spending under control.”
Most likely significant legislation to be pushed
Income tax cut
The largest tax cut in state history passed last session, but that bill did not address the state income tax. That is something Republican legislators plan to target this year with a goal of either reducing or eliminating the state income tax.
“I will continue to push the conversation on income tax reduction,” said. Sen. Jack Whitver, the Republican whip. “I believe we need to start the discussion on drastic reduction and hopefully elimination of the state income tax. While it is a long term proposal, I believe we need to start it this year.”
Gas tax increase
It’s back. Republican Josh Byrnes has already decided to push the gas tax increase again this year to fund the repair of Iowa roads and bridge. The increase has some support from Democrats across the state and some Republicans from rural areas.
However, this issue is a political non-starter and very unlikely to pass during an election year. The Iowa DOT’s decision to spend $100,000 on a new logo will damage the chances for the gas tax bill.
Minimum Wage increase
This is the Democrats’ issue du jour. They are pushing a minimum wage increase on the state and federal level, using the narrative that “working families” can’t survive on a minimum wage, and hoping the issue will help at them at the ballot box in November. The current federal and Iowa minimum wage is $7.25. Democrats have suggested increasing is to $10.10 or more.
Other things to look for
Democrat Senator Jack Hatch is the biggest grandstander in the state and that is likely to increase exponentially now that he is running for governor. Hatch is a major underdog in the gubernatorial race and he will do everything he can to draw attention to himself this session. Given Hatch’s penchant for ill-advised statements, that might not be a good thing for him.
Sen. Hatch told a Cedar Rapids audience last week that he hopes the session ends quickly so he can focus on his campaign. The liberal senator from Des Moines isn’t the only one who will seek the spotlight this session. At least six legislators are seeking higher office. Additionally, all House seats are up for reelection this November, as are half of the seats in the Iowa Senate. The politicians will likely welcome, and seek, free publicity from the media.
Quirmbach vs. Sinclair
State Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) is one of the least liked people at the State Capitol. The reasons why were on full display last session when the veteran lawmaker attempted to belittle freshman Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) on the senate floor.
Quirmbach was quickly rebuffed by his fellow lawmakers and forced to apologize by Democrat party leadership. Sinclair, who is no shrinking violet, might have forgiven, but definitely has not forgotten. She shredded Quirmbach during a Story County GOP fundraiser a few months ago and has vowed to campaign against him this year. Things might get uncomfortable for Hermie on the senate floor.
Overall, this will be an interesting session, with both parties looking ahead to November. Republicans are still hoping to reclaim the majority in the Iowa Senate and hang on to their 53-47 majority in the Iowa House. Partisanship will likely reign supreme, as the parties define their differences over the next months.
“I look forward to working hard for legislation that will grow our economy, reduce taxes, increase job opportunities, and create more government transparency,” Sen. Chapman said. “I believe we can have a successful session if our elected officials refuse to be complacent after last year’s session.”
“I expect a focused but productive 2014 session,” Senator Whitver added. “While there won’t be a lot of big issues on the table, we should be able to pass several bills that have been overlooked the last few years.”
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