DES MOINES — Elected by Iowans in November, state legislators convened this week at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines.
For the next three to four months, they will write new state laws, repeal old regulations and determine how to spend more than $7 billion in state tax revenue.
To earn the support needed for a seat in the Iowa Senate or Iowa House, those legislators — as candidates during the 2016 campaign — made many pledges to voters.
The legislators chosen for this story are from across the state and represent 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.
Republicans will have a much easier path to achieving their goals during the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. They hold majorities in both the Senate and House, thus can pass bills with only Republican support and send the legislation on to the state’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad.
Conversely, Democrats will need at least some Republican support in both chambers just to get a bill to the governor’s desk.
All of the comments and pledges chosen for this story were made by the candidates prior to the Nov. 8 election.
Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine
On water quality: Lofgren does not approve of a proposed sales tax increase to fund water-quality projects. He says he worries a sales tax increase would hurt the economy.
On the minimum wage: He does not think the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour should increase, saying he thinks it would hurt businesses and job creation. “I don’t want to stifle our economy,” he said.
On the school funding formula: Lofgren says the formula needs revision, but he does not approve of allowing schools to spend out of their reserves for an extended period. He says his preference is to allow districts to use unspent funds earmarked for other purposes.
On financial literacy: Lofgren thinks financial literacy should be taught in public schools, just as other basic subjects such as math and language. “Financial independence doesn’t just happen,” he said.
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.
On water quality: Paustian opposes a sales tax increase, saying not enough of the raised revenue would go toward water-quality projects. (The tax also would fund conservation and recreation projects.) Paustian supports a plan proposed in 2016 that would use funds from existing state revenue streams, including its infrastructure budget and a tax on water meters.
Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf
On the school funding formula: Thede supports allowing districts that are permitted to spend less per pupil than other districts to draw from their reserve accounts. “This is money that was never intended to sit in the bank,” she said.
On human trafficking: Thede wants anti-trafficking efforts to target those who pay for prostitution and provide counseling services for victims.
On the minimum wage: Thede thinks the state’s minimum wage should be increased.
Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence
On the budget: Johnson said lawmakers should stick to the state’s 99 percent spending limit, which requires legislators to budget for less revenue than the state anticipates. “It should always be a tight budget if we’re doing our job for the taxpayers,” Johnson said.
On regulations: Johnson said Iowa’s regulatory atmosphere should be as “inviting as possible” for new businesses and the state should reduce its regulatory burden.
Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls
On water quality: Rogers thinks water-quality projects should be funded by the state’s infrastructure fund, similar to the proposal made last year in the Republican-led House.
On higher education funding: Rogers said he would like to increase funding for the University of Northern Iowa.
On tax policy: Rogers said he would like to lower the state’s corporate tax rate.
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.
On abortion: Smith said he is supportive of abortion rights at a time when Republicans have indicated they would like to stop all state funding to women’s health care clinics 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.
On abortion: Wheeler said he supports “protecting unborn, innocent life from conception to natural death.” Legislation covered by that support would include “personhood” legislation, which gives full individual rights to fertilized eggs.
Rep. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City
On tax policy: Carlin said he thinks tax cuts are needed “to ease the financial burden on Iowans.” He proposes cutting corporate tax rates.
On abortion: Carlin also stated his support for "personhood" legislation. “Bills which bring about incremental change on the life issue have the potential to save lives,” Carlin said.
On marriage: Carlin said he would support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City
On collective bargaining: Kacena would like to help Democrats thwart, at least in part, one of Republicans’ top targets for legislation this session. “It is going to be tough down there. It will be more of a defensive mode,” Kacena said. “We have to hang onto some of it.”
On education funding: Kacena said he wants legislators to “fund education in a timely manner,” alluding to the requirement that lawmakers set school funding one year in advance. House Republicans have resisted the practice since gaining power in 2011, and this year, they have stated a desire to remove that requirement from state law.
Sen. Waylon Brown, R-St. Ansgar
On water quality: Brown said he wants lawmakers to develop a long-term funding solution that puts state money in programs that “have the greatest impact on actually improving water quality.”
On school funding: Brown said he wants the state to set school funding levels that are timely and not so high that the state cannot deliver on the promise. “I will strive to get responsible funding numbers approved by the General Assembly as quickly as possible so schools can set their budgets accordingly,” Brown said.
Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood
On the school funding formula: Bloomingdale said she thinks the formula should be adjusted to account for districts with outsized transportation costs. “We could free up some funds for classroom resources, which would help our rural schools quite a bit,” she said.
On tax policy: Bloomingdale said she thinks the state needs a more competitive and less restrictive business tax structure.
Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City
On tax credits: While she said some state tax credits “are great,” such as those that spur economic development in municipal restoration projects, she thinks the state gives away too much tax revenue at the expense of other funding priorities, such as public education. “If we scrutinize tax credits the way we scrutinize teachers and education, it might be a different story,” Steckman said. “So I think that’s an area that we need to really take a look at.”
On medical cannabis: Steckman said she thinks the state should permit the production and dispensation of medical cannabis for treatment of certain ailments, such as epileptic seizures.