WCF: Area lawmakers ready for 2014 session
WATERLOO | Each of Black Hawk County’s state lawmakers disputes the idea nothing will get accomplished during the 2014 legislative session.
To varying degrees, Democrats and Republicans who represent the county said the next 100 days scheduled for the session will include not just the required budget bills but also discussion, and possibly action, on issues important to them.
Whether it is building off legislation passed during the productive 2013 session or working on something new, the lawmakers will be ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work on Monday when lawmakers return to the Capitol.
“I disagree with the do-nothing session,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo. “If the theory is it’s a political year, we show up, and leave in order to campaign, I disagree with that. I think that’s the wrong approach. It sends the wrong message to voters.”
Danielson has one of the more aggressive agendas for the session. As chairman of the State Government Committee, he wants to reform campaign finance laws to more clearly lay out political ethics rules, require 100 percent transparency on campaign donations and modernize the voting process by using technology.
Lawmakers expressed some disagreement about whether the session will last longer than the 100 days scheduled for this year.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the leaders of the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate are already working on joint budget targets to speed along the session. Most area House members don’t expect anything too controversial or that would prolong the 100-day session.
Reps. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, and Deb Berry, D-Waterloo, however, have their doubts about cutting the session by 10 days as some have suggested.
“I’m not for sure it will be a shortened session. ... I guess I’ll believe that when it actually happens,” Rogers said.
Much of the focus for the area lawmakers during the session, however long it lasts, will be on Cedar Valley-specific projects.
The state senators and state Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, said they will seek an ongoing appropriation for the University of Northern Iowa of $10 million. They say the amount will allow the university to manage without a tuition increase and keep pace with the other state institutions that can beef up funding with more out-of-state students paying a higher tuition.
“We’re going to try to address that. I get a sense that most are supportive of that … but I will be advocating for that increased funding for UNI,” Kressig said.
Danielson said he will also look at a 4 percent cost-of-living increase for UNI, as the Iowa Board of Regents has asked for in order to freeze tuition at the state’s public universities. He said he sees the funds for UNI as a positive for the state overall, as 92 percent of UNI students are Iowans.
Dotzler said funding for UNI is also important for workforce investments.
Outside of specific Cedar Valley issues, the Democratic lawmakers here want to focus on workforce issues across the state. That means continuing efforts to increase funding for programs that retrain people for middle skills jobs.
Republicans’ focus, however, is likely to be on additional tax reform, specifically addressing income tax rates in the state.
Dotzler, who chairs the Economic Development Budget Appropriations Committee, said he’d like to build on the progress last year, where $4 million for Cedar Valley TechWorks was successfully included in the state’s budget. The funds allowed it to purchase one of the continent’s largest 3-D printers and set up as an advanced manufacturing and technology hub.
Dotzler also has ambitions to help the middle class by raising the minimum wage, investing in grants for Main Street and historic preservation programs, as well as funding environmental cleanups and retraining efforts.
Berry agreed her main focus will be on building a skilled workforce. She will also focus on early childhood and higher education. She will seek to increase funding for the Special Olympics so more of the state’s disabled residents can participate in the games.
Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic, D-Waterloo, said she will focus on expanding renewable energy in the state.
While Danielson said he had several other irons in the fire, a main focus will be to critique the executive branch for decisions that do not include input from state lawmakers.
Area Republicans have signaled a focus on balanced budgeting and additional tax reforms.
Rogers, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said Republicans will push an agenda that ensures the state follows the requirement that lawmakers do not spend more than the state takes in. Given that, and concerns about growing costs of Medicaid, Rogers does not expect the budget to grow much beyond current spending levels.
Both Rogers and Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, said they believe Republicans will also look at passing income tax reform.
“What I’ve heard our leadership talk about is seeing if we can do something with an income tax cut, either personal or corporate or both, some of kind of tax cut to get the money back into taxpayers’ hands,” Salmon said. She said the House worked on the issue last year.
Salmon also wants to make Iowa’s Common Core education standards optional rather than mandatory.
Lawmakers were largely united that a gas tax will be a tough sell in this election year. Rogers said he would not support it unless there was a “commensurate reduction” elsewhere in the budget.
Others said they would continue to study the issue, worrying about the state of the roads and people’s pocketbooks.
Danielson and Kressig both point to University Avenue to show the dire need for more state funding for roads. Both said it must be done at some point, though Dotzler doesn’t anticipate it passing this year.
“I think people might be surprised that given Iowa’s current policy when it comes to transportation investment that even in an election year that good policy has an opportunity to prevail,” Danielson said, pointing to four projects in Cedar Valley that could use additional investment.
There is only one other thing all area lawmakers agree on: Once the session starts Monday, just about anything is possible.