The 2009 Iowa General Assembly convened this week with the ominous task of having to face their own handiwork of the last two years of repaying voters and fulfilling campaign promises to the tune of an additional $800 million in additional spending compounded by the economic downturn and the flooding in Eastern Iowa. Governor Culver has already announced two rounds of budget cuts and the legislature may have to re-examine some of its previously approved expenditures.
With that backdrop in place let's look at what legislative priorities we feel are important for Cherokee County.
Right to Work must be maintained.
Last session, lawmakers approved a bill that would have expanded the scope of issues subject to the state's collective bargaining laws for public employees, but Culver vetoed the measure. The state's teachers union, for instance, wants to negotiate additional issues, such as classroom size.
Two years ago, the Senate passed a measure that would have allowed public unions to charge a fee to non-union members, but it died in the House. Supporters argued the mandatory fee would ensure that non-union members pay their "fair share'' of bargaining costs. We contend that the proposal would put Iowa at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting new business because neighboring Nebraska and South Dakota are both right-to-work states.
Elected officials and business groups oppose the expansion of powers, arguing it would force cities, counties and school districts to raise local property taxes. Iowa is already an uncompetitive state for business and industry when it comes to property taxes. Additional taxes coupled with the stigma of losing Iowa's Right to Work status would all but eliminate recruitment of new business.
Reinstatement of Renewable energy R&D tax credit.
We support the reinstatement of the state tax credit that encourages investment in wind energy generation equipment. The credit would help efforts to attract the expansion of wind farms in the area.
While TIME-21's passage in the last session was a step in the right direction, the $200 million yearly goal for TIME-21 was arguably too conservative to meet the needs. Moreover, forecasts for the revenues generated by TIME-21 are much lower than anticipated. We need to provide adequate funds for the Department of Transportation to keep our roads and bridges safe and to complete a Four-Lane Highway 20. On top of this, Iowa needs to invest vastly more dollars in rail infrastructure if we are serious about Iowa's role as a renewable energy leader.
Continue Worker Training
To be competitive, Iowa needs to ensure that worker retraining programs are adequately funded and always be looking for more ways to lure people to our great state. As a state, we need to be building communication lines between the Department of Economic Development, Iowa Workforce Development, the Iowa Department of Education and the business community to ensure both that students are getting the tools they need to succeed and that our businesses' workforce needs are being fulfilled.
We suggest the Legislature and the Governor examine the 260E&F programs and look for innovative ways to expand them.
Current economic conditions will create a different environment for legislators this year, one in which legislators will be justifiably reluctant to commit more funding to many programs. It would be irresponsible to suggest more funding for existing programs designed to grow Iowa businesses. However,
eventually state revenues will turn around and it would be equally irresponsible to allow legislators to forget about pressing needs.