2012 Legislative Session opens with focus on jobs, economy

Ashley Seaton

On Monday, Jan. 9, the 2012 Iowa Legislative Session began promptly at 10 a.m.

“We should focus on doing all government can do to help Iowans create jobs and grow our economy,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal in his opening speech to the legislative body.

Gronstal also said that he has three main priorities for this session: “One, help Iowa businesses create jobs by cutting commercial property taxes. Two, help create Iowa jobs by improving Iowa education. And three, the Iowa Legislature can help create jobs by finishing work on the job creation legislation which is awaiting action in the Iowa House.”

The surplus of funds created from the past two years of cuts should in theory allow for spending in the future on the development of college level education, as well as making it more affordable to obtain a degree.

“There was no budgetary justification for the cuts this current fiscal year,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach. “We ended the year with a half-billion-dollar surplus, so we now have the money to go ahead and make improvements to the education system. We may try and put together that proposal to go further than that 20 million.”

Other state representatives are more hesitant to furthering regent funding, especially because there is a request for both state dollars and tuition increase.

Rep. Dave Deyoe said, “I recognize the regents have gone through some difficult times in the last 10 years. There have been cuts, and state support has declined. I would hope that whatever we do, we can fund the regents in a way that is consistent and sustainable. They should be able to count on what they are getting and plan appropriately. We have a good relationship with the regents from the Capitol, and I’m looking forward to working with [ISU] President Leath.”

Gronstal also said in his speech, “The ultimate goal of education reform isn’t higher test scores. It is a more talented, more productive, more competitive workforce. It is the nurturing of more inventive, innovative Iowa entrepreneurs. That’s why we must do more to recruit, develop and support great teachers. That’s why we must expand access to math and science education. That’s why we must make college more affordable.”

“Obviously the quality of education is one of the primary issues this session,” Deyoe said. “Grade level reading requirements are a bit of a controversy but I think it’s important to make sure students are reading at their grade level or get the help they need. It’s important for high school students to be prepared and have the necessary knowledge before they graduate and go to college. If we hold people to a higher standard they usually work better.”

Quirmbach agrees with Deyoe that it is “crucial to have a good foundation with K-12 education.”

Gov. Terry Branstad released his 150 page education bill on Wednesday morning.

There is a strong push by the legislative body to not only create educated students but to give those students as many opportunities to prosper after they have completed their education. Sen. Quirmbach and Rep. Deyoe both agree that not only bringing in new job opportunities but sustaining the ones already available is the best way to achieve that goal.

“We want to do the best we can to promote job growth within the state,” Quirmbach said. “There is no magic bullet here, but one of the elements is granting relief for commercial and industrial property taxes. State dollars will be used over four years to buy down property tax by $50 million for the first year, then stepping that up additionally each year by 50 million until we reach 200 million, providing we have enough growth in revenue. Our property tax relief is targeted towards small business, which is where a lot of jobs are created.”

Deyoe said, “I think the most important thing we can do here as a state government is to create an environment that is going to encourage companies to want to expand here. Growing the economy is just as much about retaining the business that are here as it is about getting new business to come here.”