DES MOINES — Candidates for the Iowa Legislature made many pledges during the 2016 campaign.
That campaign set the table for the November election, which changed the power dynamic in the legislature.
State lawmakers are finishing their work on the 2017 legislative session, and we now have evidence of whether legislators delivered on the promises they made back on the campaign trail.
After hearing from those Statehouse candidates, Iowa voters gave Republicans complete lawmaking control with majorities in the Iowa House and Senate to go with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. At the outset of the 2017 session, we documented some of those campaign promises with an eye toward the work that was to come.
The legislators were chosen from across the state and represented a mixture of Republicans and Democrats, senators and representatives. Some of them were involved in the state’s most competitive races during the 2016 campaign.
Now, with the 2017 session near its completion, we take a look at how legislators fared in fulfilling those promises.
It should be kept in mind that Republicans possessed the wherewithal to pass any legislation on which all lawmakers in their party could agree. Democrats, on the other hand, could not so much as get a preliminary hearing for a bill without help from Republicans.
Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine
On water quality: Lofgren said he does not approve of a proposed sales tax increase to fund water quality projects out of fear it would hurt the economy. While this issue remains unresolved in the session’s final days, it does not appear legislators will approve the proposed sales tax increase.
On the minimum wage: Lofgren said he does not think the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour should be increased, also because he thinks it could stifle the economy. It will not.
On the school funding formula: Lofgren said he thinks the formula for how the state funds public K-12 school districts needs revising, but he said he does not support allowing districts to spend from their reserve accounts for an extended period. Legislation that would allow districts to spend from their reserves will not be approved. The Senate did approve a bill addressing per-pupil funding inequities, but it is not expected to get a vote in the House.
On financial literacy: Lofgren thinks financial literacy should be taught in schools. There was no legislation related to the topic considered during the session.
Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott
On the school funding formula: Paustian supported legislation introduced in 2016 that would have given districts a one-year pass to spend from their reserves but required them to replenish that spending the following year. During the campaign, Paustian said he would support letting districts use funds earmarked for other purposes. The Senate approved school funding formula changes, but it is not expected to get a vote in the House this year. Legislators did approve a bill that allows school districts to dip into other funding streams if deemed necessary.
“That should help Davenport and other districts, freeing up some other funds in accounts they can’t use right now. But it still doesn’t help get to the problem of the funding disparity,” Paustian said. “So we have to keep working on it. ... We’ll still keep trying.”
On water quality: Paustian said he opposes the sales tax increase, and that will not pass. Paustian said he supports a proposal made in 2016 by House Republicans to use funds from existing state revenue streams, including its infrastructure budget and a tax on water meters, to fund water quality projects. That issue is one of the few that remains unresolved in the 2017 session’s waning days.
Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf
On the school funding formula: Thede said she thinks school districts that have lower per-pupil spending allowances than other districts should be permitted to spend up to the highest level allowed by drawing from their reserve accounts. The Senate approved a plan to fix the formula, but the House is not expected to vote on it.
On the minimum wage: Thede thinks the state should raise its minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. That will not happen this session.
Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence
On the budget: Johnson said he thinks the Legislature should adhere to a rule that the state not spend more than 99 percent of its revenue. The Legislature is crafting its budget and likely will spend less than 99 percent of revenue; the problem legislators ran into this year was the estimates of how much revenue the state would have were off, so there is less money available than previously expected.
Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls
On water quality: Rogers supports a proposal similar to one introduced a year ago by House Republicans that would shift existing revenue streams to water quality projects. A similar bill may yet pass the Legislature this session.
On higher education funding: Rogers said he wanted a funding increase for the University of Northern Iowa. State budget reductions actually caused a reduction in funding to the state’s three public universities. Rogers said he takes solace in the fact that Northern Iowa received a lighter reduction than the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
“They, as far as the three regents (universities), were affected the least,” Rogers said. “So, a small win there.”
On tax policy: Rogers thinks the state should lower its corporate tax rate, which is one of the highest in the nation. No tax reform action will be taken this year in large part because of a tight budget that has little wiggle room to lose more revenue. Rogers said he is encouraged that legislators plan to examine not only tax reform but also look at how much the state spends on tax credits and incentives.
“I think that will help us take a springboard into next year,” Rogers said.
Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo
On mental health care: Smith said he thinks the state should reopen and fund state-operated mental health institutions in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, which were closed in 2015. That idea has no traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
On abortion: Smith said he supports abortion rights and knew coming into the session that Republicans would attempt to make changes to various abortion policies. Indeed, Republicans passed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and removed from the budget all state funding to women’s health care providers that perform abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City
On gun laws: Wheeler said he supports “stand your ground” legislation, which gives individuals broader leeway to use lethal force to protect themselves from perceived danger by, generally, removing the requirement an individual first attempt to retreat from potential harm. That provision was included in a wide-ranging bill regarding firearm regulations.
“That was probably the most exciting thing we’ve done so far. I campaigned pretty hard on that up in my district,” said Wheeler, who said he was pleased to receive one of the pens used by Gov. Branstad to sign the bill into law.
On abortion: Wheeler said he supports so-called personhood legislation, which defines life as beginning at conception and provides full individual rights at that moment. Such legislation would effectively ban abortions. Republicans were not able to pass a personhood provision but have passed legislation that bans abortion after 20 weeks and requires an ultrasound and a three-day waiting period.
Rep. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City
On tax policy: Carlin proposed reducing the corporate tax rate “to ease the financial burden on Iowans” and said he also would like to reduce income taxes. Because of a tight state budget, tax reform will not happen this session. Republican leaders say they hope to enact tax reform measures in 2018.
On abortion: Carlin also supports defining life at conception but said he was pleased with the abortion legislation that passed, especially once it included the mandatory ultrasound and three-day waiting period.
“The mandatory ultrasound brings the reality of the decision that’s being made and the time necessary to make a good decision for life. So I felt pretty good about that,” Carlin said. “If that amendment hadn’t been included, I wouldn’t have voted for (the bill).”
On marriage: Carlin said he would support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. No such proposal was made during the session.
Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City
On collective bargaining: Kacena said he hoped to help Democrats thwart Republicans’ efforts to change state laws regarding how public employees can collectively bargain for wages and benefits. Although Republicans pushed through their proposal, which significantly reduced those public workers’ collective bargaining rights, Democrats did their best to postpone the inevitable by dragging out the debate over the course of three days.
On education funding: Kacena said he wanted legislators to fund education in “a timely manner.” The Legislature approved its public school funding plan as one of the first bills of the session, although Democrats would note state law previously required that funding level be set a year earlier.
Sen. Waylon Brown, R-St. Ansgar
On water quality: Brown said he thinks the state should develop a long-term funding solution for water quality programs with the greatest impact. The Legislature is still working on a new water quality funding program as the final days of the session tick away.
On school funding: Brown called for public education funding that is timely and responsible so schools do not have to worry about losing any promised funding. The Legislature finished its school funding bill early in the session, and the proposal included an increase of 1.1 percent, one of the lowest on record and a result, Republicans say, of a tight state budget.
Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood
On the school funding formula: Bloomingdale said she thinks the formula for how public K-12 school districts are funded should be updated to help districts with outsized transportation costs. A bill that addressed per-pupil funding and transportation inequities passed the Senate but is not expected to get a vote in the House.
Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City
On tax credits: During the campaign, Steckman called for the Legislature to examine tax credits and tax incentives and how much the state spends on them. Support for such an examination has increased over the course of the session while the budget pie continues to shrink.
On medical cannabis: Steckman supports a call to permit the production and sale of medical cannabis for treatment of certain ailments such as epileptic seizures. Legislators are making a final, last-ditch attempt to pass the proposal; it thus far has passed the Iowa Senate, 45-5.