April 15, 2024

A disappointing agenda

June Bower

The 2023 agenda of Governor Reynolds and the Iowa Legislature presents some real problems for Iowa’s future. They’ve made it apparent many important issues will get little attention from them during the 2023 session, while controversial matters will get a lot of their attention.

For instance, Iowa is sitting on a huge budget surplus, in part because of generous funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, yet the governor and Republican-led legislature are still eager to cut taxes again. While Iowa’s mental health, education, child care assistance services and others continue to be under funded, Republicans will continue to reduce taxes even more benefiting high-wage earners and large corporations.

Unbelievably, they’ve got another big campaign going for private school funding. While public schools continue to lack adequate funding to meet their growing needs, some legislators, and the governor in particular, stubbornly insist on diverting tax dollars to private schools, despite the fact most residents around Iowa will never benefit from their taxes being spent this way.

Governor Reynolds also continues to promote extreme policies on abortion. Despite polls that show Americans support rational abortion rights, the governor insists on getting a strict fetal heartbeat law approved for Iowans.

Unbelievably, there may be even more easing of restrictions on guns. Last November, there was a new amendment to the Iowa Constitution on the ballot. Many voters had barely heard about it and didn’t recognize its significance; however, the amendment passed 65.2 % to 34.8 %.

So, what does the new amendment say? It reads, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Apparently Republican lawmakers and gun-rights activists had tried to get this amendment on the ballot for a long time. They recognized this was another way to fight future gun-control laws. Now that it has passed, the amendment’s reference to “strict scrutiny” will be used in the courts to argue against laws trying to impose more restrictions on guns.

Although many opponents of the amendment were not opposed to the Second Amendment, they did have a deep concern this new constitutional amendment would make it harder to get safety restrictions on guns. But then, isn’t that the whole point of the amendment – a way to appease gun owners who always believe they’re in a fight for their Second Amendment rights?

Iowa now has gun laws that could compete with Texas. Effective July 1, 2021, a permit to carry a hand gun was no longer required in Iowa. Anyone who is at least 21 years old and allowed to possess a handgun, may carry a concealed firearm in this state, whether or not they actually have a permit. We have become a constitutional carry-without-permit state for both residents and non-residents.

Ironically, the new laws do make a few exceptions - in particular, state capitol buildings and grounds. Lawmakers made sure they’ll be safe from guns, but for the rest of us – forget about it.

Governor Reynolds proudly announced the state ended fiscal year 2022 with a balance of $1.91 billion in the general fund, $830 million in reserve fund, and $1.06 million in the taxpayer relief fund. Crediting herself for these surpluses, she’s still favors more tax cuts.

Others view these surpluses as proof the state is underfunding much needed services. They point out public education has been underfunded six years in a row. They’re concerned about losing child care assistance for low-income families due to a critical lack of state support.

They say there should not be a budget surplus when Iowa has only two mental health beds per 100,000 residents. The national average is 12. Anyone who has tried to get help for an emotionally troubled loved one can testify to the severe lack of mental health services in Iowa.

Iowa’s minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25. Two-thirds of Iowa’s counties have lost population as young people leave the state to start families and seek better career opportunities elsewhere. The condition of the state of Iowa is nothing to brag about.

Iowa law requires a balanced budget, but it shouldn’t be on the backs of its people.