Speaker Paulsen’s Opening Remarks for the 86th General Assembly

Below are Speaker Paulsen’s opening day remarks, prepared for delivery:

Friends, family, representatives – welcome to the 86th General Assembly.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize all of the family members in the chamber today, particularly my wife Cathy.  Our families are our biggest supporters and make the most sacrifices in our service to Iowans.  Thank you for your constant strength and encouragement.

I’d also like to recognize that as we convene today we are missing one of our own.  Please keep Rep. Dwayne Alons’ family in your prayers and let’s remember his commitment to Iowans and the fervor in which he worked to move our state forward.

As we sit, joined together in the people’s house, I’d like to issue a simple, straightforward challenge to you.  While others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs —   I challenge this General Assembly to ensure that government do less and do it better.

Government continues to meddle in Iowans’ lives and seems incapable of doing even the smallest jobs correctly — today we must meet the challenge of stopping this intrusion. Just like you, I have been contacted by various interest groups, lobbyists and even government agencies regarding how much MORE money they need just to keep doing what they are currently doing.  Do we ever stop to ask, do we really need government doing this activity?  Government could do better if it wasn’t trying to do too much.  What if we asked government to do less but do it much better?

DO LESS

The revenue forecast says we will have an additional $200 million to spend in Fiscal Year 2016.  If we cannot fund Iowans’ priorities with an additional $200 million then that means two things:  we have too many priorities and we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Instead of more programs and endless expenses, let’s ask government to do less.  Let’s instead create opportunities to make family life more affordable, upward mobility more likely and employment easier to find.  We need to ensure the programs currently on the books are doing consequential things that improve Iowans’ lives and are worth the taxpayers’ investment.

Rep. Pettengill – you and your Rules committee have led the charge in removing barriers for Iowans’ when it comes to the rulemaking process.  I want to encourage you and your team to continue this vital work on behalf of the legislative branch, ensuring the intent of the laws we pass is followed and onerous rules that hamper growth in our state are identified and removed.

DO IT WELL

While we want government to do less, we also want it to do much better.  We can all agree that one area government needs to do better is in the building of our new state prison.  Not only has the opening of the prison been delayed for several months, there still is no move in date set.  The taxpayers of Iowa paid for this new facility, it is up to us to oversee their money is being spent appropriately.  Rep. Kaufmann – I’d like you and your Government Oversight committee to investigate this issue.

Four years ago, Iowa faced a $900 million budget shortfall.  Now as the 2015 session begins, Iowa is spending just 94 percent of what our outdated expenditure limitation law allows, our budget reserves remain full and the ending balance is over $700 million.

Iowans work hard to earn their money, so they, not us, can invest it for retirement, spend it on necessities and save it for priorities that they deem important.  Let’s make sure government operates well in what we’ve asked it to do.  Rep. Soderberg – your appropriations committee has done diligent work in the past to spend tax dollars wisely.  I’d like you to once again ensure budgets passed in the House stay true to these four principles.  The budget must:

  • Not spend more money than the state takes in.
  • Not use one-time money to pay for on-going expenses.
  • Not intentionally underfund entitlement programs to balance the state’s budget.
  • Return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.

I believe one area that government has been making a significant difference for Iowans is in the Skilled Worker Initiative.  When we look back 10 years from now, I believe we will recognize that effort as one of the most consequential things we have done to improve the lives of Iowans.  Rep. Hanusa and Rep. Jorgensen– please continue the work in your committees to allow Iowans to obtain the skills needed in order to make that upward mobility possible and for families to prosper.

I am hopeful that once again we can find resolution on leaving more money back in the hardworking Iowa taxpayers’ pocketbooks.  Not only have we begun to return money back to the Iowa taxpayer through the Taxpayer Trust Fund, as of January 1st, Iowa no longer taxes the social security benefits of our citizens.

You see, back in 2006, a Republican House, a split-control Senate and Democratic governor came together to enact a plan that eliminated the state tax on social security.  It was overwhelmingly bipartisan and is proof that when we commit to working on lowering the taxpayers’ burden we can have a significant effect.  We can give Iowans more financial security and the sky will not come crashing down.  Rep. Sands – I’d like you to continue your efforts in finding pragmatic ways to let Iowans keep more of their hard-earned tax dollars.

Over the course of the 2014 elections it became clear that trust in large institutions, like government, was not just waning, it was plummeting.  Like most Americans, Iowans believed their state and local governments functioned better than those in Washington, DC.

How do we live up to those expectations?

First, if we are truly going to be different then we need to act differently.  Passing one more government program without examining the multitude of programs which already exist is more of the same.  Passing another tax credit without examining the millions of dollars already invested in tax credits is more of the same.  Putting even more money into education while test scores and other measurements continue to decline is more of the same.  Offering up solutions to problems that have already been solved is pandering and more of the same.  We need to identify and solve problems differently.

Second, Iowans’ priorities need to be our priorities.  Iowans want their government more efficient and they want it to be serious about protecting every tax dollar.  They don’t want more obstacles and more government intrusion into their lives.  Most simply want to be left alone to raise their families and enjoy their communities.  So we need to continue to spend less than we take in, continue to pay off debt and focus investments on key areas with broad support.

Third, we need to work with each other.  Blustering, ranting and drawing lines in the sand accomplishes very little.  We must not be afraid to work with people with whom we disagree.  Iowans don’t want us to fight the same tired battles that ultimately end in a stalemate; instead they want results.  We have shown that we can accomplish this, without compromising our core principles.

Lastly, every year in my opening day speech I offer a gentle reminder that the desks we sit in do not belong to us – instead they belong to the 30,000 Iowans we each represent back home.  The people who send us here expect us to do our jobs, just like they do every day.  Iowans want government to do less but do it better.  Now, let’s get to work.

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