So your Iowa Legislature has, at long last, adjourned its overtime 2018 legislative session.
Lawmakers rode to a Saturday finish, though hardly at Kentucky Derby speed. No photo at the wire were needed. Republicans who control the House, Senate and governor’s office won comfortably by several lengths.
They stood in the winner’s circle, touting two sessions’ worth of accomplishments. I’ll leave the detailed retrospective to others, for now.
I’m focused on what amounts to what I call the third session of every two-year general assembly, and that’s the election campaign. In this session, Iowans get to weigh in on the legislative work product and decide whether to send the same cast of characters back to the Golden Dome of Wisdom. Or maybe make some changes.
Control of the House and Senate will be up for grabs. Iowans will be electing a governor.
And after the two sessions we’ve just witnessed, I hope nobody tries to tell you it doesn’t matter.
Public workers now know how much it matters. Women know it matters. People who rely on Medicaid, care about our environment and work for at or near minimum wage know it matters. Iowans struggling with mental illness and their families know how much it matters. Ditto university students and schoolteachers.
We’ve all now witnessed an untethered governing party legislate with a wrecking ball, a sledgehammer and a steamroller. Iowans historically accustomed to a more cautious, moderate brand of governing watched Republicans stampede rightward, smashing, trashing and dealing out political retribution. Don’t like it? Get out of the way.
Bills written in backrooms moved faster than Iowans could catch up with details. Protests were dismissed. Objections fell on deaf ears.
So, yeah, it matters who will be in charge in January 2019.
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For starters, the massive tax cuts approved this weekend by Republicans, with nearly half of the benefits going to Iowans who earn $250,000 or more, likely will tighten Iowa’s already tight budget. Major tax cut packages in the past have led to budget problems, and they weren’t approved in the middle of budget problems. That means more spending reductions. It will matter who sets the priorities as we clean up the mess.
Will we keep slicing funding for state universities and tossing inadequate scraps to K-12 public schools, or will we finally dig into the massive pile of tax breaks, credits and exemptions sapping billions of dollars from state revenues with little evidence of benefits? The Republican tax plan makes little more than a teaspoon-sized dent in the mountain.
Speaking of education, the next Republican Legislature will no doubt take up the cause of Education Savings Accounts, providing publicly funded vouchers to families sending kids to private schools. It would be a massive change in a state where pride in Iowa’s public schools was once a bipartisan article of faith.
Water quality efforts could remain safely tucked behind the window dressing of this year’s sorry bill, or a real push could be made for actual, measurable progress. The voter-approved Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund could sit empty for another two years, or a three-eighths-cent sales tax increase can finally be approved to fill it. We can find ways to fund important university research centers, such as the Leopold Center, or turn out the lights and defer to corporate benefactors.
Iowa’s Medicaid program can remain in the hands of out-of-state managed care corporations, with care too often denied and payments to providers delayed, or our leaders can get to work on an Iowa solution with Iowa oversight. The minimum wage could get a boost after more than a decade, or we can sit at $7.25, lower than five of six neighboring states.
The push for a real medical marijuana program, with far broader access to an array of cannabis products for ailing Iowans, can at last succeed or remain stubbornly blocked by GOP House Speaker Linda Upmeyer. We can also reform criminal penalties for small amounts of pot, or leave drug war relics in the criminal code.
Will there be more restrictions on women’s’ reproductive rights, or more political assaults on Iowa’s court system? Will the Legislature take more and more authority away from local governments trying to address local issues? Will public workers who watched their bargaining rights evaporate see their pension system scrapped as well?
And will we get fooled again? No, not this time.
Now that we know what’s at stake, we can’t let candidates get away with hollow campaigns relying on sketchy platitudes, dubious claims and non-issue nonsense. Don’t let them run and hide, dodge and deflect. Find forums. Follow the money. Get involved however you can.
Because the third session has convened. And, this time, they can’t shove you out of the way.
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