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Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, at left, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, Sen. Chaz Allen, D-Newton, and Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, participate in a 2018 legislative issues forum Wednesday in Des Moines. The forum was sponsored by the Iowa Chamber Alliance, a non-partisan coalition representing the 16 largest chambers of commerce and economic development organizations in Iowa.

DES MOINES — Two high-ranking Republicans told an Iowa business group last week that they expect state lawmakers will make serious efforts next session to provide relief to business and individual income taxpayers and bolster programs that will enhance the skills of Iowa's workforce.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, told members of the Iowa Chamber Alliance he believes "Chapter Two" of the bold changes Republicans — who control the Statehouse — plan to achieve next year will include "real tax relief," not necessarily reform, that will help Iowa businesses grow and create more jobs.

"Reform implies that it might be a moving of chairs on the deck and that's not what we should be pursuing," Dix told members of a non-partisan coalition representing the 16 largest chambers of commerce and economic development organizations in Iowa. "We should be looking at how we become less reliant on the income tax and motivated by one reason and one reason only — to grow our economy and to have more taxpayers.

"It needs to be real tax relief that attracts and allows for more taxpayers and an increase in the tax base, and recognizes that money can walk," Dix added.

Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, said Republicans in the House and Senate will caucus on taxes and other issues after the state Revenue Estimating Conference convenes Monday to set tax collection projections that will form the basis for budgeting in the 2018 session. He said corporate and personal income taxes "are on the table" and right now "there are about 15 ideas out there on how to do it and how to get it done."

While there are many ideas about how to improve Iowa's tax climate, the consistent theme in the discussions has been "we're going to have a real cut," Highfill noted. "I think the important thing is to make sure it's a cut, make sure Iowans are fairly represented and have a lower tax bracket."

"I believe it's going to happen," he added. "All the stars have aligned."

The discussion on taxes came during a legislative luncheon held after the alliance issued its legislative priorities for the 2018 session. Priorities focused on tax reform and continued support for economic development programs the group sees as essential for growth.

Along with tax-code changes, the alliance advocated comprehensive investment in developing and retaining world-class talent in the workforce through broad support of Gov. Kim Reynolds' Future Ready Iowa initiative; support for high-quality K-12 education to prepare graduates with career-ready skills or post-secondary education; " fiscal prudence and spending restraint" across all levels of government; long-term infrastructure planning and resources to fund critical, capital-intensive projects; and a predictable and responsive regulatory environment.

"The 2018 legislative session will allow the Iowa Chamber Alliance the distinct opportunity to improve Iowa's economic landscape," said Chris McGowan, 2018 ICA chair and president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce. "This year the Alliance will focus its efforts on improving Iowa's overly complex and burdensome tax structure while advocating for the economic development tools we utilize to encourage capital investment, create quality jobs and wages, and enhance our quality of life."

Sen. Chaz Allen, D-Newton, who also participated in the legislative panel with Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, stressed that a state's tax code is among about nine elements that prospective businesses look at when making location decisions. At the top of the list is skilled labor along with highway accessibility and quality of life for employees, Allen noted, in pushing for a balanced effort to promote growth, economic development and jobs.