Close call: Iowa almost became a labor-state

After four months of week days in Des Moines and weekends in Listening Posts and meetings at home, I am ready for a slower pace. I will still maintain an aggressive schedule of meetings and events in every corner of the District, but my days move to teaching and working on the farm. How would I characterize this session? Some good policy was passed with solid bipartisan support, while there are now new laws that I believe will be detrimental to Iowa for decades to come. Without exception, this poor policy was run through the Legislature on party-line votes. This is probably why the Des Moines Register gave this year’s legislative session a grade of “C.” My grade assessment would be even lower; primarily due to poor fiscal policy as defined by our State Auditor.

My analysis in this column includes eight positive achievements of the last session and eight negative actions. My lower than average grade is a reflection of the long-term detrimental effects of these negative actions on the future of this state.

First the positive achievements:

• Our bipartisan health care bill addresses portability, covering all Iowa children, and medical records efficiency.

• We continued to follow through on our educational promises including teacher salaries, early childhood, and university funding.

• Iowa’s Right to Work law was preserved. Barely. With 47 Republicans and 3 Democrats standing firm, we stopped an aggressive attack by one vote! Another year of one-party control and we could lose our Right to Work status.

• No state tax on your federal stimulus checks.

• A new pilot project for volunteer fire departments will allow sharing of resources while preserving the integrity of the individual community departments.

• We narrowly avoided a “last-minute” attempt by a few legislators, backed by the ACLU, to weaken our drunk driving laws.

• REAP funding, resources for conservation and water quality, and several bills (two of them inspired by West Branch science students) to reduce mercury, oil, and other pollutants in the environment were passed with strong bipartisan support.

• Making the SILO (penny for schools) statewide will bring millions in school infrastructure and property tax relief to this area. Amidst spin and misinformation from a few interest groups and pro-urban legislators, a bipartisan core held firm in our support.

Now the policies detrimental to our future:

• Statewide core curriculum was passed but bipartisan attempts to include rigorous standards were defeated. Despite the rhetoric, this is a sad case of the state educational bureaucracy maintaining the status quo.

• The Senior Living Trust will be nearly emptied. Amidst misleading claims of filling the Trust, the dollars are actually spent in the same year as the deposits, leaving the balance at its lowest mark and nearing extinction.

• A collective bargaining bill described as “devastating” and “harmful” by a flood of local groups and organizations was passed rapidly and without a public hearing on a straight party-line vote. Will the Governor sign it?

• The casino exemption for the statewide smoking ban will go down as one of the most hypocritical laws this session. A sad example of the influence of money in politics.

• No commercial property tax relief. Nothing but another committee to study the problem.

• Community college tuition will increase and our county fair funding was cut at the same time the Governor’s salary was raised by over 10% and statewide offices received 24% raises. This was party-line voting at its worst.

• Despite promises made before the tobacco tax passed, Medicaid reimbursement (only 1%), nurses’ salaries, and health care affordability should have merited more attention.

• A total lack of fiscal responsibility in budgeting. In two years we have a 17% increase in state spending ($900 million). This is more than all eight of the previous bipartisan budgets combined. Despite the political spin and claims of full reserves (something required by law and related to the level of spending), we are heading for a fiscal train wreck and guaranteed demands for tax increases. (Send me a note and I will be happy to provide the non-partisan statistics that outline this problem.)

I believe the lesson for this session is that both parties sharing power works best. One-party control often leads to extreme policy and a lack of fiscal responsibility whether it is the Democrats today in Des Moines or the Republicans a few years ago in Washington. Bipartisanship is where we find both common sense and the middle ground…both a reflection of where Iowans want us to be.

Thanks for allowing me to serve you. Do not hesitate to contact me throughout the interim with concerns, opinions, or problems.

- Jeff Kaufmann


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