DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Iowa’s Republican leadership said Monday its lawmakers are working on “chapter two” after passing major reform last session, largely along party lines. The GOP majority had returned to the statehouse for the beginning of the 2018 lawmaking season.
Photo: Flickr - Max Goldberg
The party’s control of both chambers and the governor’s office last year allowed Republicans to loosen gun laws, further restrict late-term abortions and rollback collective bargaining.
With expectations of major reform happening again, it was hard for Republicans to hide a cheerful disposition that morning.
“It’s always fun to comeback,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. “First day of session is like everybody coming back to school.”
GOP lawmakers grabbed a bite at their annual breakfast before the start of the session and basked in their 2017 accomplishments.
“I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever you will make all of us proud again,” said Jeff Kaufmann, Iowa’s GOP chair, speaking to the lawmakers.
Once the gavel fell in the House and Senate chambers, tax reform was the talk of the statehouse. The GOP goal— cut rates and simplify the code. It’s something that hasn’t been done for about 20 years.
Sen. Bill Dix, (R) Shell Rock
“As many of you may remember,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-She’ll Rock, “we’re here to kick the door in on how state government does business.”
Standing in the doorway has been Democrats. Despite their minority, they fought desperately in 2017 to stop the GOP’s big changes, made with what they say were backroom bills.
“If this is going to be second verse, same as the first,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, “they will craft their legislation behind closed doors and then just drop it on our lap and expect us to do something with it.”
Democrats made concerns know almost immediately, Monday. In opening remarks, left leadership called for an end to “Governor Reynolds’ Medicaid privatization mess.” Also— alleged Republicans have lost control of fiscal discipline.
“We don’t believe Iowans should be forced to clean up the budget mess and we will work to hold both the majority party and the Governor accountable,” said House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown.
Following a controversial session last year, day one this year looked to have already drawn consternation among the parties.
The gavel drops in Des Moines, Monday, as the Iowa House and Senate begin the 2018 legislative session at 10 a.m.
Republicans again have control of the statehouse and the Governor’s Office with former Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds now at the helm for a full year following Terry Branstad’s departure from the capitol to take his current position as Ambassador to China.
The GOP is expected to yet again push through major reforms after loosening Iowa’s gun laws, limiting funding for groups that provide abortions and rolling back collective bargaining rights, last year.
A major goal for the right this year, state tax reform. Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, told TV9 a few generalities of the possible plan, saying lawmakers want to make the code simpler and reduce tax rates. That’s despite Iowa facing reduced revenues and a budget that needs balancing.
Dix said he thinks lowering rates will spur growth, calling the cuts “a must.” He pointed to tax cuts in 1997 as proof.
“At that time,” said Dix, “people said you can’t do this because it’s going to reduce revenues. It didn’t. So, we don’t have to look very far away to see how reducing rates can generate additional revenue. It did.”
Democrats worry state tax reform will mirror new federal cuts, which, in the words of House members, will “reward corporations and the wealthy.”
Leadership for the left has said lawmakers will not support any legislation unless it’s fair and simple, provides relief for the middle class and keeps the budget balanced.
“In terms of cutting taxes right now, I think we need to take a look at our deficits already,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha. “The governor was forced with moving money from different cash reserves three times.”
More specifics on the tax plan are expected during Gov. Reynolds Condition of the State Address, Tuesday morning.
Republicans may also be forced to tackle ongoing issues with Iowa’s new privatized Medicaid system— an initiative of the Branstad Administration, backed by GOP lawmakers and Gov. Reynolds.
Things have been rocky for the health care program for poor and disabled Iowans. The three private companies managing the state’s $4 billion system are now down to two. New reports suggests it’s saving 80% less than originally promised. Plus, there are complaints from providers and patients about reduced services.
Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said recently Medicaid “hasn’t improved enough, fast enough.” Democrats would probably go further than that.
“There’s no choice,” said Mathis. “Part of Medicaid and the managed care transition was about choice, that patients, clients, members would have a choice. They really don’t right now.”
“With respect to addressing the needs of our poor and their health care, we need to challenge ourselves,” said Dix. “I have no doubt there’s room there for improvement.”
Major GOP reforms last session were largely passed along party lines. But, leaders from both the right and the left feel there will be more cooperation than people might realize.
A spokesperson with the House Republicans said, by his count, more than 88 percent of legislation passed in 2017 had bipartisan support.
“We go through the process,” said House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights. “We’ll go through all that on every piece of legislation. Clearly, every member of the legislature has an opportunity to weigh in on every bill we pass.”
“Differences in Democratic and Republican philosophies, certainly, collided on many of those bigger bills that made headlines,” said Mathis. “There were a lot of other things that we did agree on that didn’t affect as many people.”
TV9 will have live updates on the opening of the Iowa legislature throughout the day. Check back later, as this story will be updated.