March 07, 2021

Iowa legislative session to begin Monday

On Monday, Iowa state lawmakers will return to the state capitol in Des Moines to start the 2021 legislative session. For House Representative Tom Moore (R-Griswold) and State Senator Tom Shipley (R-Nodaway), the state budget and tax policy rank as two of the most important items on their agenda.

Moore and Shipley said state legislators have been working hard to get the state budget back on track.

“Over the last two or three budget years, we have used less than 99% (of the budget) and that allows us to return money to the tax payer through tax breaks,” said Moore. “That is why Iowa is No. 1 rated debt in state in the nation as far as a healthy budget.”

“And that’s not us saying that. That’s outside sources. We are going to try to maintain that – staying on top of what our revenues are versus our expenses,” said Shipley. “I think our priority is making sure we are financially sound as we come out of this pandemic.”

According to Iowa Public Radio, Minority Leader Sen. Zach Wahls (D-Coralville) said some of the state’s $305 million budget surplus and $770 million reserve or “rainy day” funds should go to essential workers, food assistance and small business relief. Moore and Shipley disagree, not because they don’t want to help Iowans, but because of the amount of federal funding available for COVID-19 relief.

“We have to be careful of that,” said Shipley. “A lot of the federal stimulus money is designed to do exactly what he has proposed. So how far do we keep going?”

Of the budget surplus, Moore and Shipley said they will be exploring ways to return it to the taxpayers.

“Returning that money to the tax payers through tax breaks and tax incentives is probably the highest priority. That’s one of our main tenets to make sure the tax payer gets a fair shake as far as our use and a return of their money,” Moore said.

As for the $770 million in the reserves, Moore and Shipley both said that needs to be reserved for emergency funding should anything happen in Iowa mid-year.

“Things can go south pretty fast, and if we don’t have that money – one time we did not have it because it had all been spent – I think that’s the sort of thing we want to maintain and why we’re in the financial shape that we are. The federal stimulus money has helped take care of some things and I think we just need to make sure we are in a position where we are in the middle of the year, like we did in 2010, and find out all of a sudden everything has to be slashed and burned,” Shipley said.

Other priorities

This year, Moore said House Republicans want to look at property tax in an effort to ease the financial burden of Iowans.

“We are looking at continuing our tax policy work, trying to restructure it so that it’s better for Iowans all the way around,” said Shipley.

“Because of the heavy burden of property tax over the mental health in Iowa, that’s going to be one thing that is going to be looked at very, very strongly,” said Moore.

Last year, Gov. Reynolds proposed the Invest in Iowa Act with the goal of raising the state’s sales tax by 1-cent in an effort to lower the tax burden on Iowans and and to invest the additional revenue into mental health services and water quality. While mental health continues to be at the forefront of state legislators’ priority list, Moore appears skeptical that the Invest in Iowa Act could pass in 2021.

“I know there was a considerable opposition to raising the sales tax,” said Moore. “There’ll be less opposition to raising tax in an off-election year.”

Moore said he’s not entirely opposed to raising sales tax by one cent, but he doesn’t want to increase sales tax just for the sake of increasing revenue. He said he wants to explore how to use the potential revenue of a sales tax increase to help defray or offset the cost of other tax burdens for Iowans.

“Mental health shouldn’t be the charge of only us people who own our home. It should be a charge of everybody and everybody should be paying their own way in helping to fund that,” Moore said.

When it comes to education, parental choice in education will be a topic of conversation in the state legislature this session.

“Mainly, that parents have a choice to opt their kids in to full-time school during this pandemic situation,” said Moore. “We’ve given parents the option to opt-out of school and to go virtual, but we don’t give parents the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I want my kids with a teacher in class being educated. That’s going to be interesting because you’ve got to weigh the ramifications of the pandemic with that choice ... .”

Moore said discussing parental choice in education is important because while some students can learn in a virtual environment, others are not faring as well.

“We are learning how valuable the classroom is to the student’s learning process,” said Moore. “They need that classroom instruction.”

Moore said the discussion will include the use of vouchers, educational spending accounts, and how money follows each student versus going to a district of residence.

Legislative coffees

Each year, the Creston Chamber of Commerce hosts three legislative coffees for constituents to meet with Moore and Shipley to inquire about their work in the state legislature and to bring issues to their attention. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those meetings will be held virtually 9 to 10:30 a.m. Feb. 13, March 13 and April 10 via Zoom. These sessions are free and open to all members of the public. Additional information on how to join the meeting will be announced by the Chamber via its Facebook page and will be published in the CNA.

Contact Rep Moore at tom.moore@legis.iowa.gov and Sen. Shipley at tom.shipley@legis.iowa.gov.

SARAH SCULL

Sarah Scull is a San Diego transplant now living in Creston, Iowa. Sarah joined the Creston News Advertiser editorial staff as a reporter in in 2012 and was promoted to editor in November 2018.