Under the Golden Dome, Too – June 6

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With the conclusion of the 2013 session, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on some of this year’s accomplishments. Since last fall, we have consistently voiced our commitment to making Iowa a stronger place to live and raise a family- through balancing the budget, providing significant tax relief and reform, and promoting policies to encourage great schools and communities. I am happy to report that we have fulfilled these promises with the conclusion of this legislative session.

As promised, throughout the budget process, we stood by our core principles to not spend more than the state takes in, not use one-time money for ongoing expenses, not intentionally underfund our commitments simply to fix the problem down the road, and to return unused tax dollars to Iowa taxpayers.

By following these principles, the bipartisan budgets passed this year spend 88 percent of what the state is allowed to spend, property tax credits are being fully-funded for the first time since 2002, and we were able to fund our public universities at a level where student tuition is frozen for the 2013-2014 school year.  The state is spending less than it collects for the third consecutive year, our budget reserves remain full, and the ending balance is projected to be $600 million.

Additionally, because of the sound budgeting practices we stood by, we led the way on reducing our state’s debt.  This year’s final budget uses a portion of the ending balance to pay off $114 million in debt earlier than required, while also fulfilling our obligations in regards to pension funds.  This is the way Iowans manage their own checkbooks, and it should be no different for state government.

Addressing the burden of property taxes placed on the backs of Iowa taxpayers has been long overdue. For decades, the Legislature struggled to come up with a solution to the unsustainable growth of property taxes, but we were finally able to do so this year.  The bipartisan legislation provides real relief for all classifications of property.  SF 295 limits assessment growth from four percent to three percent on ag and residential taxpayers and also includes a ten percent rollback on taxable value for commercial and industrial property.  Once fully implemented, it will provide $560 million in property tax relief across Iowa.  It is meaningful and reliable so taxpayers can count on relief from year to year.  Finally, the bill implements a permanent mechanism for the Taxpayer Trust Fund credit, returning the over-collection of taxpayer dollars back to the taxpayer.

Much discussion was given this session on how to care for Iowa’s neediest citizens.  With IowaCares expiring, we saw this as an opportunity to improve upon our current system of care.  We knew some wanted us to go down the path of ceding control to the federal government, but rather, we worked diligently to come up with a bipartisan, Iowa-based solution that makes the most sense for our state- a plan that would be implemented close to home.  The Iowa Health & Wellness Plan will improve the quality of care for Medicaid recipients, while rewarding patients for personal responsibility and improving their overall health and wellness.  The legislation also includes an opt-out option if federal funding changes occur.

We were committed to improving the quality and rigor of education our children are receiving in the classroom as well.  This session we passed a comprehensive education reform package that offers flexibility for school districts, innovation for teachers, accountability from our schools for parents, and protection for taxpayers.  The bill will reward excellence in the classroom and through an innovative career pathway system for teachers, empower those excellent teachers to teach their methods to their colleagues.  This legislation implements policy changes focused on achievement-driven reforms and greater student outcomes.

You can be certain that we will continue to build upon the success of the 2013 session, work on additional priority issues during the interim, and be ready to lead again in January.  As always, please feel free to contact me anytime with the issues you care about at linda.upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or 515-281-4618.

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