86th General Assembly Day 1: Iowa Senate

The Iowa Senate opened the 86th General Assembly on Monday morning.

The Iowa Senate opened the 86th General Assembly on Monday morning.

During the opening ceremony of the 86th Iowa General Assembly today, Republicans and Democrats unveiled their plans for the next several weeks. Both sides emphasized working together, with Democrats pledging to look out for the best interests of middle-class Iowans and Republicans promising continued fiscal responsibility.

The Senate elected Sen. Pam Jochum to serve as President. The Dubuque Democrat then gave her opening remarks, starting off with a welcome to the Senate’s seven new members: Chaz Allen, Mark Costello, Kevin Kinney, Tim Kraayenbrink, Jason Schultz, Tom Shipley, and Tony Bisignano. She then thanked her colleagues for the honor to serve as presiding officer, and pledged an open-door policy for all members of the chamber.

“As State Senators, we have a responsibility to lead honorably with our words and our actions,” she said. “As leaders we have a duty to set an example on how to solve problems in spite of our differences.”

Jochum then urged both Democrats and Republicans to find ways to “move forward” in spite of their “real differences.”

“Let’s begin by aiming higher than the partisan debates that divide us,” she said. “Let’s begin by listening and talking to each other rather than over each other. Let’s begin by setting our sights on goals that are supported by all Iowans and will make a real difference in Iowa’s future.”

Jochum suggested continuation of the in-state undergraduate tuition freeze at Iowa’s state universities, as well as more funding for preK-12 education. She also stated a desire to expand the availability of “quality, affordable childcare” in Iowa.

Next, Senators heard from Minority Leader Bill Dix. The Shell Rock Republican spoke about creating a “legacy of opportunity” for Iowans. His speech emphasized fiscal restraint and cultivating job creation for the state.

“We must be aggressive in our focus on growing our economy. A competitive tax structure is advantageous in expanding our skilled workforce and creating new career opportunities,” he said. “Senate Republicans know we must reduce the regulatory and tax burdens on job creators. Significant tax relief emboldens businesses, which leads to job creation, bolsters Iowa’s economy and leads to increases in state revenues.”

Due to “reform packages passed in 2013,” Dix urged his colleagues to be mindful of the impact their work would have on future budgets. He said fiscal responsibility was important to ensure commitments already made with regard to education and property tax reform.

“Shirking this responsibility in favor of simply raising taxes would be a betrayal of the trust of the voters who elected us,” he said. “Spending money we do not have would be worse: a betrayal of the next generation as we hand them the tab for our irresponsibility.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal then addressed the chamber with his vision for the 2015 session. The Council Bluffs Democrat spoke frequently about Iowa’s middle class during his remarks. He said stagnating wages, higher student debt, slow job growth, and a dearth of Iowans in need of 21st century job skills were hurting Iowa’s economy.

“What Iowa needs is a larger middle class,” he said. “More Iowans with access to good jobs, great schools, affordable child care, health care, and housing; and the ability to retire with dignity.”

Gronstal echoed many of Jochum’s comments about education, and added a need to boost job training opportunities at Iowa community colleges. He also said the Senate should work to ensure state contracts are awarded to Iowa companies first, and that Iowa’s workers are “paid what they are owed.”

He then talked about a recent conversation he had with Gov. Terry Branstad regarding the governor’s upcoming Condition of the State Address, which will be given Thursday in the House Chamber. Gronstal said Branstad “pledged to obey the law” regarding budgeting for state direct aid to Iowa’s preK-12 education system. But, he said the governor told him Democrats would be disappointed with his funding proposal.

“That comment shows exactly why school funding has become a mess here in Iowa,” he said. “Let me spell it out.  Education funding is not, and should never be, primarily about partisan politics.  Never. That hasn’t been Iowa’s history, and if education DOES become a partisan issue in Iowa, it will spell disaster for our state’s future.”

Gronstal urged both sides find “common ground,” noting it is not easy, and by definition means not getting what one side or the other wants. He said it was important for Republicans and Democrats to focus on the areas where both sides can agree.

“If we put the needs of Iowa’s citizens ahead of narrow, partisan politics, we will find that common ground and this session will make a positive contribution to the state we all love.”