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January 15, 2016  |  Week 1 Summary

2016 Legislative Session Begins.
Governor Branstad Delivers Condition of the State.

Governor Branstad struck an optimistic tone about the upcoming legislative session and the future of Iowa. The Governor also spoke about the need for a responsible budget, and setting priorities that match those of Iowans across the state. The budget he released included more than $145 million in new funding for pre-K through 12th grade students and teachers.

He highlighted his innovative idea aimed at addressing two issues with long-term funding needs: education infrastructure and water quality.  Recalling the help wanted signs he and Lt. Governor Reynolds have seen on their 99 county-tour throughout Iowa, Gov. Branstad called for further focus on aligning career training for Iowa students and workers, making it easier for Iowans to get the training they need for the jobs they seek.

Many of the jobs of the future will be related to green energy, and the governor wants to position Iowa for success. In his speech he announced that Lt. Governor Reynolds will be leading efforts to craft the State Energy Plan. The State Energy Plan will build on the renewable energy success already seen in Iowa and help provide a strategic blueprint to capitalize on our renewable energy success and grow our opportunities in the future.

Finally, Gov. Branstad highlighted our state motto, "Our liberties we prize and our rights we shall maintain," and the efforts of the Chief Justice, the NAACP, and state agencies to demonstrate his desire to work with legislators to address criminal justice issues this legislative session.    

Highlights of his presentation and his legislative priorities for 2016:
  • Schools and Medicaid will receive most of the spending money
  • In order to improve patient health and control Medicaid cost, the state of Iowa is implementing a modern approach toward Medicaid through managed care.
  • Proposes to increase pre K-12 funding by over $145 million. This additional investment would bring total pre-K-12 education spending in the state budget to over $3.2 billion dollars
  •  A substantial investment was made through a bold framework for school infrastructure and water quality. Schools will rely on the Secure Advanced Vision for Education or SAVE fund for school infrastructure
  • This investment in both education funding and water quality is all done without raising taxes. 
Economic Progress
  • Close the skill gap by establishing Future Ready Iowa, a goal that 70% of Iowa's workforce will have education and training beyond high school by the year 2025
  • STEM Council recommendation inspired their proposal to move students into the 21st century by requiring high schools to offer at least one high-quality computer science course by 2018-19
  • Need to prioritize policies that are poised to grow like bio-renewable chemicals. A state bio-renewable tax credit, which is revenue neutral, will create more high-quality jobs
  • Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress is developing a State Energy Plan to try and be the first state to meet 40% of our energy needs from wind power by 2020

Reform of the Iowa Justice System
  • Spend more tax dollars of rehabilitation rather than incarceration
  • Established a new Wrongful Conviction Division to investigate wrong convictions of innocent people and help protect public safety 
  • Focused on providing individuals in correction system with skills they need to have rewarding careers upon release
  • Improve the jury selection process to ensure racial diversity of jury panel to help assure a fair trial
  • Confidentiality of juvenile delinquency records instead of public records

Legislature Back in Session.
Overview from IMTA Lobbyist, Dave Scott.

Lawmakers made their way back to the statehouse this week to convene the 2016 legislative session. As is customary, the first couple of days was filled with speeches and special presentations but then things quickly turned political as Democrats and Republicans presented their priorities and it was apparent that emotions are still running high as a result of the way the session ended last year. 


Noun: 1. Bitterness or ill feeling and finger pointing

bitterness, anger, rancor, resentment, ill feeling, ill will, bad blood, animosity, hostility, enmity, antagonism, waspishness, spleen, malice, spite, spitefulness, peevishness, venom

"the meeting ended with acrimony on both sides"


Yep, that about defines the level of goodwill as the Iowa legislature convened on January 11, 2016.  I am not sure I have ever seen this level of acrimony the first week of the session.
What has led up to the current state?
In the spring of 2015, after a session that went almost five weeks beyond the date when legislative pay was cut-off, the legislature finally adjourned with an "agreement" on educational funding which had alluded the legislators and the Governor for the entire session.  Right or wrong, the Democrats believed they had reached a compromise with the Democrat controlled Senate and the Republican controlled House and the Governor.

Governor Branstad has long been an opponent of using one-time money for on-going expenditures, but the legislature appropriated approximately $50 million to K-12 education that was seen as one-time money.  Regardless of the definition of one-time revenue and who "allegedly" inferred the Governor would sign the increase in funding, the short story is the Governor vetoed the legislation after the legislature had adjourned. 

To say this upset Democrats would be a major understatement.  They were - and still are - angry and believe they were duped.

Now, let's move forward to late fall 2015.  The Iowa Department of Revenue promulgated rules which would exempt from the sales tax certain materials used in the manufacturing process.  There had been legislation to accomplish the same thing in the 2015 session, but it failed to advance. Coincidentally, the cost of this tax exemption is estimated to be around $50 million.  Don't think for a moment the irony of this $50 million tax break was lost on those who were supporting the $50 million extra dollars in K-12 funding.  From more than one legislator, we have heard "if we can afford a $50 million tax break for business, why couldn't we afford $50 million more for our kids."

So, with the taste of these two bitter pills still fresh in the mouths of some, we begin the 2016 session. Let the battles begin.

Dave Scott
IMTA Lobbyist
Expectations for 2016 Session.

Governor Branstad has announced a new water quality initiative he has called his "biggest and boldest" proposal in his history as Governor.  Under current law the Secure Advance Vision for Education, or SAVE fund for school infrastructure will expire in 2029.  Since its inception schools have received $3.2 billion in infrastructure funding. It is funded by a one percent sales tax which is currently used exclusively for schools and bring in approximately $400 million annually. The sales tax was increased in 2008 from 5 percent to 6% and the one-cent was to replace local option taxes being used for schools.

Under the Governor's proposal this tax would be extended to 2049.  Schools would continue to receive the base funding, but the growth in the fund would go to support the water quality initiatives.

Those of us in the transportation industry will remember when the hue and cry at the Capitol was "Kids over Concrete."  Well, some are calling this "Water over Kids."

It is not surprising legislators who are still angry about the cuts in education are not taking warmly to the Governor's proposal. The Governor announced his plan at a press conference with former Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack who is now the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  However, word around the state house is Vilsack, nor the Governor, gave the Democrats a heads-up about the proposal.  Let's just say this didn't help what was already some raw nerves.

Never count out Terry Branstad, there's a reason he's the longest serving governor in the history of the United States; however, it is fair to say his water initiative has not appeared to gather much support on either side of the aisle, but then again it's only the first week of the session.
Speed Limit
There appears to be new interest in increasing the speed limit in Iowa by 5 miles per hour. It is reported that there are some House Republicans that are very interested in getting something changed in regard to the speed limit so we will continue to see how this plays out. 
Texting While Driving
Texting while driving is already illegal in Iowa, however a driver cannot be ticketed while texting and driving unless the texting is a secondary reason for the traffic stop. Under proposed legislation, a driver observed to be texting could be stopped as the primary charge and ticketed. This continues to be a very hot topic and some are suggesting that this will gain some traction this year. 
Where's the Money Going
Last year the 10 cent per gallon gas tax was passed.  Some people want to know how the money is being spent.  Both the House and Senate Transportation Committees have reported they will be asking the Iowa DOT to make presentations to the legislature outlining how these new revenues are being utilized. 
Wage Theft
This issue was raised last year in the Senate and directly impacts the trucking industry.  Although the bill did pass the Senate last year, it died in the House and is not likely to see the light of day in 2016, but we will be watching this very closely and will be prepared to stop any legislation that delves into this area. 
Medicaid in Iowa.  The controversial proposal has been under fire all last year.  The Democrats are calling for more legislative oversight. It is predicted that this issue will be one of the main issues of the 2016 session. 
Minimum Wage
The Governor surprised many last week with apparently opening the door to a discussion on increasing the state's minimum wage.  He did not hint at any specifics, but he did say he was willing to look at an increase.  Regardless of the level that may be proposed, passing it will be very difficult.  Some have called for an increase as high as $12.00 across the board, others have called for a phase-in and levels based on sales volume of the employer. Regardless of what finally shows up in legislation, this is bound to be a very long and hard fight. 
Education Funding
Funding for K-12 is always a major budget battle in the legislature, but coming on the heels of last session, this year's debate is likely to be even more contentious.  The Governor opened up the discussion in his Condition-of-the State message by calling for an increase of $145 million in new funding for K-12, which is an increase of 2.45%.  No word yet on what the proposed increases may be by the House and Senate. 

Update from Washington, DC. 

Lawmakers returned to Washington, DC this week as well. Over the Christmas break, IMTA President Brenda Neville met with several of the lawmakers when they were back in the state of Iowa. 

IMTA Chairman Mark Olson hosted an event at his home in Decorah, Iowa, that featured Senator Chuck Grassley.

A group of approximately 14 people attended the event and had the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics with Senator Grassley.  

Senator Grassley has always been very supportive of Iowa's trucking industry and his staff reaches out regularly to the IMTA office. 

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Dave Scott Head Shot  
IMTA Lobbyist
IMTA President