Des Moines – Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, released closing remarks at the end of the 2021 Iowa Legislative Session.
It is a tradition at the beginning of each legislative session for the Senate Majority Leader to lay out the vision for the upcoming session. In January I talked about the need to give parents an option to send their students to school for in-person learning and for us to continue our focus on creating a tax and regulatory environment to encourage work and investment. Policies designed to make this state a premier location in this country to work and raise a family.
Parents across the state were seeing their children struggle to stay engaged with remote learning. It quickly became apparent the quality of education through a screen just is not the same as education in person. The emails from frustrated parents began to trickle into our email boxes. The trickle became a stream and the stream a river. Parents knew their children needed to have a regular schedule of education and they needed the legislature to help.
The Education Committee quickly developed policy to implement a shared priority with the House of Representatives and the governor to give parents the option to send their children to school full time. Data from Iowa and across the country showed the deterioration of the academic performance of K-12 students. The decline was even worse amongst lower income children. After 9 months or more of intermittent or no in-person schooling, it was time for Iowa students to stop the erosion of their knowledge and skills and begin to recover and advance their education.
Education provides Iowa students the tools they need to compete for the careers of tomorrow in an ever-changing economy. The changes in the economy over the last 15 months highlighted the need for improved broadband service across the state as more and more Iowans worked from home, took classes from home, and even had doctor’s appointments from home. Iowa is ranked as one of the bottom states in the country in connectivity and broadband speeds and that problem needed a solution. Leaders of the Commerce Committee addressed the vital need for improved broadband services across the state with strong policy improvements. That policy was followed up by a $100 million commitment to improve this service.
The $100 million for broadband was made possible in part because of the tough but necessary choices on the state budget over the last four years. For the first two years in the majority Republicans were forced to implement mid-year budget cuts because spending was too high. After those years, the budget is now on solid footing and can sustain not only a global pandemic, but also can create opportunities to build the broadband infrastructure to further economic development in rural Iowa.
That stable, reliable budget creates opportunities for tax relief and this year the tax relief will be significant. A robust housing market caused property assessments to rise by tens of thousands of dollars in some areas. The Senate responded with a $100 million property tax cut by eliminating the mental health levy and moving funding to the state budget. Uncertainty around the effective date of a major round of income tax cuts was eliminated. This relief will reduce the top rate in Iowa from an uncompetitive 8.53% to a more competitive 6.5%, along with implementing more simplicity into the tax code. This year’s tax cut package totals over $1 billion over the next 8 years. It also allows bonus depreciation so farmers and small business can continue to invest in their operations and create more opportunities in this state.
Finally, none of these opportunities will become a reality without the protection of the life and property of Iowans. This year the Senate led on implementing a number of protections for the people who keep us safe. Law enforcement will have protections enshrined in Iowa law for faithfully doing their jobs. They will have legal protections from dangerous and violent offenses against them like maliciously shining laser pointers in their eyes.
This session ran a little longer than normal. But as I’ve said many times, Senate Republicans come to Des Moines to do something, not be someone. We are happy to do the hard work necessary to provide certainty on income tax relief, property tax relief, make sure K-12 students can go to school full time, pass a reliable, sustainable budget, and defend law enforcement.
Iowa is the 2nd fastest state in the country to recover from the pandemic. Iowa has 65,000 job openings and 32,000 people looking for work. Iowa has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, great schools, a lowering tax burden, and an outstanding quality of life.
Iowa is a great place to live and it’s only getting better.
Thank you, Mr. President.