May 29, 2024

A look back at the legislative session

Barb Kalbach

Iowa’s 2023 legislative session gaveled to a close, landing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the hands of wealthy donors. The Iowa Republican leadership’s constant talk of “fiscal responsibility” is nothing more than window dressing. This session showed us they are not minding the store, keeping track of pennies and balancing budgets. Instead, they are facilitating the looting of our public goods and services, transferring wealth to their political allies and private interests.

The wrecking-ball of a session started in January, with the legislature passing Reynolds’s “signature education bill.” The law de-funds public schools by moving up to $345 million in state dollars per year to private schools. The vast majority of the benefits, currently $7,600 per private school enrollee, will go to Iowans who can already afford to send their kids to private schools.

Reynolds and the Republican leadership moved quickly and quietly on their school privatization scheme this year after being defeated in previous sessions, in large part due to rural Iowans who understand the importance of public education in our communities and local economies. To a lot us, the Reynolds plan to privatize public education through vouchers makes no sense.

We all know teachers, staff, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers who are worried about their futures as public school budgets decline through privatization. Starving public schools is no way to solve the problems we face. For the life of me, I can see no good reason why Iowa’s political leaders would vote to siphon millions of dollars per year away from these essential local institutions. It only adds to the “hollowing out” of our rural communities.

Our statehouse elected officials also failed to take action to protect Iowa from proposed CO2 pipelines and the threat of eminent domain abuse by the corporate agribusinesses trying to build them. The Iowa House did their job this year, passing eminent domain reform through their chamber before a group of state senators -- in the pocket of the pipeline industry – blocked the common-sense proposal.

I was one of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members who exposed this insider dealing, filing an ethics and conflict of interest complaint against Senator Michael Bousselot (R-Ankeny). He’s a former top-level Summit Ag employee with close business and professional ties to Summit executives Bruce Rastetter and Terry Branstad. Rastetter is one of Iowa’s richest corporate agribusiness barons and a big political donor, and Branstad – our former governor – is a senior policy advisor for Summit Carbon Solutions.

Bousselot should have taken a hands-off approach to any legislation dealing with Summit, Rastetter and Branstad. But despite his close ties and connections, Senate leaders gave him the power to single handedly block the anti-CO2 pipeline bill – HF 565 – for the time being. Bousselot effectively protected the billions of dollars that Summit Carbon Solutions – and its executives – stand to make from this boondoggle.

But as much as they want us to believe that HF 565 is dead, we know this was only the first year of a two-year session. Because HF 565 passed the House, come January 2024 it will be very much alive and sitting in the Senate commerce committee.

The hypocrisy of Iowa’s legislature was on full display this session. In one breath they hijack millions of public dollars for widely unpopular policies, and in the next they attack Iowans who rely on food stamps. But that’s the point, isn’t it? As long as everyday people are fighting about food stamps, books, or what bathroom someone can use, legislative leaders can continue their business-as-usual politics, leaving all of us with crumbs. Or more literally, under-funded schools for our children, CO2 pipelines in our backyards and whatever scheme comes next that will make money for political donors.

We’ll keep organizing in the months ahead to put people before profits and communities before corporations. We know that real and lasting change always comes from the ground up, not the top down. And we know that organized people get things done.

Barb Kalbach is a 4th generation family farmer, Registered Nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at barbnealkalbach@gmail.com.