'Best-run states' list has lessons for Republicans and Democrats

Reynolds administration touting Iowa's many positive metrics

Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds speaks prior to Governor Terry Branstad signs a property tax reform bill at Hawkeye Ready Mix in Hiawatha on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds speaks prior to Governor Terry Branstad signs a property tax reform bill at Hawkeye Ready Mix in Hiawatha on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

What’s right with Iowa?

Gov. Kim Reynolds is trumpeting Iowa’s latest appearance in state-by-state rankings. The financial blog 24/7 Wall St. this month listed Iowa the third-best run state, calling it “one of the most fiscally responsible states in the country.”

The figures in the new report have a reality check for both sides of the political spectrum. For Republicans, they’re a reminder that our party doesn’t have a monopoly on sound budgeting. For Democrats, they show GOP-controlled states like Iowa have not become corporatist wastelands like the naysayers predicted.

The top five states in the rankings released this month — Minnesota, Utah, Iowa, Oregon, and Washington — include two Republican-controlled states, two Democrat-controlled, and one split government.

Lists like this are common, and readers shouldn’t put too much stock in any one in particular. However, Iowa consistently shows well and the 24/7 Wall St. ratings rely on more than a dozen metrics from the government and nonprofit data sources.

Consider Oregon, which hasn’t elected a Republican governor in 30 years and where Republicans haven’t controlled either legislative chamber for more than a decade. Still, analysts say the state’s lawmakers “have long exemplified fiscal responsibility,” with among the lowest debt loads and interest payments in the nation.

Meanwhile, the report’s authors noted GOP-controlled Iowa has “one of the most generous unemployment insurance systems of any state,” with 40 percent of unemployed residents receiving state benefits, compared to 27 percent on average nationally, and the fifth-highest benefit levels as a portion of average wages.

Neither liberal Oregon or conservative Iowa are living up to their critics’ worst fears. Not all Democrat states are burning piles of cash, and not all Republican states are blowing up their social supports.

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Lessons from elsewhere may prove important as Iowa seems to be in the midst of an uneasy shift from swing state to red state.

Statewide offices and the legislature in Iowa have usually been split between Republicans and Democrats, and former president Barack Obama won our electoral votes twice.

However, Iowa now has unified Republican government at the state level, and President Donald Trump topped his Democratic opponent by nearly 10 points statewide last November. Registered Republicans now outnumber registered Democrats by about 50,000, though no-party remains the largest group of voters.

I am firmly supportive of Reynolds’ and GOP legislators’ plans to slash taxes and regulations, but they would be wise to learn from the experiments carried out in other red states.

Kansas and Oklahoma implemented steep tax cuts over the past decade, yet many indicators show that hasn’t spurred the economic growth state leaders hoped for. Now both states face budget challenges and funding cuts.

Like America, Iowa already is great. Republicans can make it even greater, but they’ll have to do it the Iowa way — not the Kansas way or the Oklahoma way.

• Comments: Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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