116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
We are just past the halfway point of the 2022 Iowa Legislature’s 100-day calendar. Also this past week, Gov. Kim Reynolds gave some legislative status updates in her GOP response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. So, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of lawmakers’ output so far.
At the beginning of legislative business in January, The Gazette editorial board put forth some priorities for the year. We pointed to issues such as workforce development, child care and education as the ones legislators should be focused on.
Some sessions are characterized by big legislative packages to address key issues. This does seem to be one of those. Lawmakers are tinkering at the margins instead of pitching comprehensive new programs. In our view, the results so far have been mixed.
The ongoing worker shortage is recognized as a top problem facing Iowa’s and the nation’s economy. Reynolds repeatedly referenced the issue during her Condition of the State address to kick off the legislative season. There are reportedly more open jobs in the state than there are unemployed workers.
And yet lawmakers have offered little that directly addresses the worker shortage. A workforce omnibus bill recently advanced out of a Senate Ways and Means subcommittee is a bit underwhelming considering the scope of the problem.
That legislation would expand work-based learning in Iowa schools and bolster recruitment of health care workers through student loan forgiveness. Those are all fine ideas but probably not enough to jumpstart Iowa’s workforce.
To attract and retain workers in high-demand sectors, the state needs significant investments in basic quality-of-life amenities — good schools, clean water and ample recreation. However, with the newly signed tax bill Reynolds touted during her State of the Union response, the state might be undermining its ability to make those investments.
Reynolds signed a bill this past week to phase in a 3.9 percent flat tax rate over the next four years, which is expected to reduce annual state revenue by $2 billion when it’s fully implemented.
In her prime-time speech, Reynolds glossed over some significant workforce challenges with her overly simplistic “paying people not to work” line. Reynolds’ led the national audience to believe Iowa is experiencing significant growth but the reality is that growth is much harder to come by.
This is the policy area where legislators stand to do the most damage. Advocates for teachers and students find themselves on the defensive in Des Moines, trying their best to mitigate the hazards of the GOP’s most radical proposals.
Reynolds said in her rebuttal that she is part of the “pro-parent, pro-family revolution.” Here’s what that looks like in practice: Threatening criminal charges against teachers who share controversial books and banning transgender girls from participating in school sports.
Republican legislators this year are pushing bills to force their conservative worldview into the classroom. Their campaign deprives individuals and local communities of the power to shape the educational experience without undue influence from an overbearing state government.
In more normal legislative business, the Legislature last month settled on a 2.5 percent per-pupil funding increase for Iowa schools, or almost $160 million in new money next fiscal year. That is short of the 5 percent advocated by Democrats but more than most other years in the past decade. We would have liked to see a bigger increase — especially given rising inflation that is affecting government entities — but we’re glad it didn’t revert to the paltry 1 percent funding hike of just a few years ago.
Reynolds referenced children multiple times in her State of the Union response but made no mention of child care, even though she has said for the past several years it is a top priority.
Iowa has a high rate of children with all parents in the household working. The state also has a severe shortage of child care providers. The effects are multipronged — young Iowans may not get access to the enrichment and socialization they need, and parents are held back from fully participating in the workforce.
So far this year, lawmakers have moved forward with bills to expand access to child care assistance programs for parents experiencing medical problems and to adjust the payment structure for families receiving assistance.
Those proposals are OK but we are concerned with another bill that would increase the allowable ratio of children to staff at child care centers. Some research shows children are better served by having more adults in the room. Many existing providers oppose the change.
Overall, we found Reynolds’ address to be predictable and needlessly divisive. It would have been more interesting to hear the governor embrace some of the bipartisan points Biden presented or talk about some of the bipartisan bills in the Iowa Legislature.
Instead, she fell back on the same partisan talking points we have come to expect.
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