Below are the opening day remarks of Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, as prepared for delivery:
Our country was founded on the principles of limited government and individual liberty. Those ideas led to the concept of the American Dream. Since I have been the Majority Leader in the Senate, this chamber has enacted policies to make the American Dream more attainable in Iowa, bring more opportunities for Iowans, and make this state a great place to call home.
For four years now, Republicans have held the majority in the Iowa Senate, giving us the ability to implement an agenda to bring more jobs and more people to our state. We passed historic tax reform for Iowa families, eliminated burdensome rules and regulations for job creators, and put in place responsible budgets setting our state on a sustainable path.
We know the legislation we passed had been working for Iowa and for Iowans. Prior to the pandemic, wages were rising, our state had record low unemployment, and more job openings than Iowans looking for work.
For years we have been saying we need to be responsible and budget conservatively so we can prepare our state for hard times. Last year, our state saw what ‘hard times’ really means. We experienced a virus that threatened the lives and livelihoods of Iowans and their families. We watched some of our favorite businesses in our communities close their doors forever. We went months without seeing loved ones in hopes of keeping them safe. And then, in the midst of already unprecedented times, we watched a massive storm tear through the middle of our state, giving Iowans one more burden to bear.
Despite facing all of these challenges, Iowans never stopped helping each other. Many ate at their favorite local restaurants to support them, and local restaurants helped feed struggling families. Our neighbors volunteered their time to help those in need, whether it was making supplies for health care workers or cleaning up a neighbor’s yard after the storm.
This year we are focused on putting our state back on a path of success and prosperity after all these challenges. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: the best recovery plan is a job. This recovery plan means sticking to those same principles guiding us for the last several years. It means freedom to work. It means continuing our work on tax reform, and putting more money back into the pockets of Iowans. It means ensuring the best education for Iowa students, in the classroom, where they learn best.
Tax relief is always going to be a priority for me and a priority for this caucus. We have been working to make our state and our tax climate more competitive with other states. While we have made some progress these last few years, we want to continue relieving some of that tax burden on Iowans. Even with our historic tax cuts, Iowa still has some of the highest tax rates in the country. I think, especially right now, it would be hard to find an Iowan who wouldn’t like a little more money in their pocket and a little more savings to fall back on if they need it. Achieving this goal means conservative state spending is just as important as it has been these last four years.
Because of the budgets Republicans have passed since 2017, Iowa was ready and prepared for uncertain economic times. Our state was recognized as one of the most resilient when it comes to our budget. This does not mean we start raiding the surplus and recklessly spending what we have so carefully built up – it means we are prepared if revenues dip again and not enough money is available to keep the promises we made to public safety, health care and education last year. When Iowans face financial struggles, they tighten their belts and live within their means. They expect their government to do the same.
Each year I say we need to look not just to the next year but to the next generation. In my opinion the biggest concern for the next generation is educating students in our public schools. Despite the pandemic, we must not sacrifice the future of our children. We cannot let a generation of kids fall behind in school. Kids learn better when they are in school, in classrooms, in person, instead of in front of a screen. The longer they are out of school, the more their skills deteriorate and the further they fall behind. Test scores this fall showed the negative impacts of students not being in school regularly. At midterm this fall, 37% of students in Iowa City schools were failing at least one class, a number nearly double previous years. A similar decline has occurred in other districts around the state and across the country. By any rationale standard this performance is unacceptable. The futures of Iowa students are built on the education they receive today and if we continue to erode that foundation, none of us should be surprised when their opportunities begin to crumble.
Our focus will be on giving parents an option to send their children to school safely. Students need to prepare for whatever lies ahead of them, to recover the ground they have lost over the last 9 months and to restore their future career opportunities.
2020 was extraordinary by any measure. The pandemic and the natural disasters tested Iowans like never before. Challenging times call for strong, principled leadership and the Iowa Senate will continue to deliver results for Iowans. I believe our state is ready to look towards the future, start moving forward, and start our recovery. Now, let’s get to work!