House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Garner) delivered closing 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.
It is hard to fully describe the honor of serving in this building but it is not difficult to know who to thank. I think I speak for us all when I say thank you to our constituents. They put their trust in us and keep us focused on what is important. It is the people of Iowa that will always make this job worthwhile.
I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. You all give so much of yourselves to do this job. It is not easy taking time away from family, work and life. But you have all done that so the people in your district could be well represented.
Minority Leader McCarthy, your caucus and your staff deserve to be commended for their tireless work and their contribution. I am proud of the bipartisan spirit that can be found in much of the legislation we have done this year.
Thank you to all the people who keep this building running – day and night. You often work without recognition, but we appreciate all you do. Thank you to Tom, Katelyn and all the pages. I am so impressed with all of you and know you have a bright future.
A special thank you to our staff: Jeff, Lon, Jason, Amanda, Kristi, Lew, Louis, Brad, Dustin, Jill, Matt, Josie, Terri, Tony and Angie. You are simply the best at what you do.
When I was thinking about what I have learned over the last two sessions and what we have accomplished, I kept coming back to one thought: big things do not often happen all at once. A building is not merely placed on the corner of a street, rather it is built brick by brick. It is the culmination of many smaller contributions through which big things are done.
It is that idea which describes the work we have accomplished over these last two years. There is no magic bill to cure all woes, and NO… waiting for one to come is not what made the last two sessions run long. To effect change, you need to make a consistent effort to focus on your priorities and principles.
Over the last two sessions we have made a consistent effort to focus on delivering a more effective and efficient state government for the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa. First and foremost that was accomplished by delivering on our promise that we would live within our means, just like Iowans have to. We committed to not spend more than we took in, and we have stood strong.
We have made the budget process more transparent and accountable. We have dramatically reduced the number of “notwithstandings” in the budget. In fact, RIIF went from 98% “notwithstandings” to only 25%. That is significant progress, but clearly there is work yet to be done. Over the years, many things were moved off budget which made it hard to determine exactly how much the State was spending each year. We tackled that, not all at once, but each day as we worked through the budgets.
We have created stability in the budget by refusing to spend one-time money for ongoing expenses. Again, this took vigilance on a daily basis by Representative Raecker and his team. Old habits die hard, but they fought for it and the financial health of our government is better as a result. Nothing is harder on our communities or erodes the public confidence more than rollercoaster budgeting. Using stable funding sources ensures we keep the promises we make and creates certainty for Iowans.
It goes without saying that balancing a budget is hard work. Even harder is finding agreement on a budget when you have many cooks in the kitchen. An expedient choice to help resolve the budget in the past was to knowingly underfund the commitments we had made to Iowans in order to balance the budget or spend more in other areas.
That is precisely the situation we found ourselves in last year with K-12 funding. Schools were underfunded by $156 million, which placed an unfair burden on our school districts and the property taxpayers. To remedy this, we committed a historic amount of new funding to education last year. Intentionally underfunding known obligations to balance the budget is irresponsible and I am proud we kept our promise to avoid it.
Sometimes making a positive change and doing the right thing can also be the easy thing to do! We made a commitment to conducting our work in the light of day, which meant we would not debate in the middle of the night. Representative Cownie, what could be easier than NOT debating after midnight? Even if it was not convenient at times, it was the right thing to do.
We wanted Iowans to have the opportunity to be participants in this process. Part of that was making sure we were not working in the dead of night. Another part of that was providing for streaming video of floor activity. What a wonderful way to truly open the doors to the people’s House.
What I covered today is only a small sampling of the many positive contributions that have come over these last two years. When you add them up, you are looking at a substantive change in the culture of state government. We should be proud that we have held ourselves accountable to the commitments we made to Iowans. That is what they expect from us and it is what they deserve.
The progress is significant, but we should not lose sight that there is more to be done. We have to turn the cultural change over the last two years into a pattern of practice. We have to continue making the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa a priority. We have to keep working towards delivering a world class education to our children. We have to continue striving to deliver the most efficient and effective government in the nation. We absolutely must continue to ensure state government is aiding job creation, not impeding it.
That has been our focus. That will continue to be our mission.
I want to thank Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds for their effort to be partners in our shared goals. Your leadership and the message you have carried across this state have been instrumental.
Thank you to the members of my caucus. I am humbled everyday by your hard work and the opportunity you have provided me. Thank you to the retirees for your service. You will be missed. I am proud that you will return home knowing you left our state in a better position and that you were able to make a difference.
Mr. Speaker, as always thank you for your leadership and your friendship. The 84th General Assembly has come to a close and we should be proud of the work that was done in this chamber.