DES MOINES – For better or worse, the 83rd General Assembly of Iowa is likely to be remembered for how it handled disasters – one natural, the other fiscal.
Majority Democrats touted balancing the budget without tax increases, additional aid for education and benefits for veterans as well as leaving $380 million in reserves and a massive state government reorganization they say will save nearly $265 million.
“We’re looking at a legacy of significant, dramatic accomplishment,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said. “We’ve realigned state government to fit the resources available.”
Republicans were less sanguine about the session. The focus should have been on job creation and an affordable budget, House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, Hiawatha, said.
“Unfortunately, 111,000 Iowans remain out of work and instead of working with employers, this body saddled them with more regulation and targeted them with property tax increases,” he said. “We spent time on cowl lamps and lead wheel weights … even took the time to debate and spend money on heated sidewalks.”
The failures were not only fiscal, the GOP said.
“We are also leaving today by again failing to give the citizens of Iowa a vote on the basic definition of marriage, Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, said as the Senate adjourned March 30. “Iowans have overwhelmingly asked for a chance to vote. Their desires have been arrogantly ignored.”
On top of the fiscal challenges, lawmakers devoted significant resources to helping local communities recover from floods and tornadoes. In 2009, that included tax abatement for property owners who improve damaged properties, authorizing the sale of bonds to finance infrastructure improvements and policy changes to require cities to participate in programs to lower homeowners’ cost for flood insurance.
Their effort continued in 2010, even adding $30 million for flood protection projects at the last moment. Their emphasis in 2010 was on forward-looking protections for communities, including smart planning and allowing local governments to form watershed management authorities.
The work isn’t finished, said Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids. “It will take seven, eight, nine years before the communities have the resources they need,” he said.
The Legislature’s support has been vital, said Senate Rebuild Iowa Committee Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. He was pleased with $1.3 million for the University of Iowa Flood Center and $10 million to update flood plain maps. Hogg wished flood plain protection policy changes had gone farther. However, the Legislature has put in place the framework for response to the next flood.
Despite his misgiving, McKinley said the “future for this state could not be brighter and I could not be more excited to be part of (its) rebirth, revitalization and rejuvenation.”
In the end, the session might not be all that memorable, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said.
“Given the context of the national crunch we went through, that’s a testament to our success because we did our work — that’s not too flashy — in the face of some difficult, difficult circumstances,” he said.