Senator Dix: Upcoming Local Elections

Next Tuesday Iowans will turn out to the polls to vote in municipal elections. These elections can have a significant impact on our daily lives. City councils control a significant portion of the property taxes Iowans pay. They decide how development will proceed, how parks are built and maintained, and many other aspects close to the lives of residents in our communities.

Last session the Iowa Legislature passed a law allowing fireworks to be purchased and used. That law also gave city councils discretion on a number of policies related to the times and dates those products may be used.  The legislature also reformed Iowa’s collective bargaining laws to allow municipal leaders more flexibility and control over their communities.

Finally, the legislature merged the date of city and school board elections for future years. This change will reduce the number of elections for Iowans and it is expected to increase participation in both city and school board elections. That increased involvement allows Iowans a better opportunity to become engaged on local issues.

Policies at the federal level make headlines and draw much conversation and debate, however, the elections in our cities and towns often impact our lives more directly than those in Washington, D.C. I hope you plan to take a few minutes next Tuesday to make your voice heard in municipal elections in your community.

Let’s make it happen!

Senator Dix: Growth and Revenue

Last week the Revenue Estimating Conference released its projection for state revenue for this fiscal year and next year. Revenue growth is expected to continue to be slow in the coming months. Senate Republicans passed a smaller budget this year than the budget passed in 2016. This achievement is rarely seen in state government. Exhibiting fiscal restraint is always a priority, but it is only part of the solution to the challenges facing Iowa’s budget.

The other solution to slow revenue growth is stronger economic growth. Sustainable, long term economic growth is achieved by reforming taxes. Iowa’s current tax code is laden with high rates, complexity, and a number of exemptions and credits. The proliferation of tax credits are a symptom of an uncompetitive tax code. Rather than implementing tax credit after tax credit for politically favored industries, the goal of tax reform is to lower rates and complexity for all. Lowering rates and reducing the amount and cost of credits creates a fairer, flatter tax structure allowing the free market to most efficiently drive investment.

As I have noted several times over the last year, Iowa needs stronger economic growth. A strong economy has many advantages: better career opportunities for Iowans, increased tax revenue for education, public safety and infrastructure, and careers and quality of life amenities for younger Iowans to remain in or return to Iowa.

Let’s make it happen!

Senator Dix: Ending Iowa’s Opioid Epidemic

This week, a group of legislators held a two-day meeting to talk with the medical community on potential responses to the opioid crisis in Iowa and evaluate the prescribing of opioid medications.

The committee received input from state agencies including the Iowa Department of Public Health, representatives of law enforcement, national experts, members of the medical community, and health insurers.

The opioid addiction epidemic is one of America’s foremost health crises. In 2016, Iowa had 67 opioid overdose deaths, 146 opioid-related deaths, and 2,274 opioid treatment admissions. All of these are a significant increase from 2005 when Iowa had 28 opioid overdose deaths, 59 opioid-related deaths, and 608 opioid treatment admissions.

One speaker highlighted states with more aggressive regulation of prescriptions. Currently, 18 states limit the initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain, usually to a seven day limit, while Iowa does not. Thirty-three states invalidate a prescription after 3 days to 1 year.

Another tool Iowa has to combat opioids in the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). Iowa introduced this program in 2009. The PMP is a tool utilized by government officials for reducing prescription drug abuse and diversion. The program collects, monitors, and analyzes electronically transmitted prescribing and dispensing data submitted by pharmacies and dispensing practitioners. The tool helps minimize what has become known as doctor shopping. Doctor shopping occurs when a patient visits many different doctors to request prescription narcotics, which often leads to overuse and abuse of the medication. In Iowa, prescribers are not required to register to use or use the PMP. Approximately 42 percent of prescribers are currently registered to use the PMP.

Legislators discussed a bill to address the opioid crisis for the 2018 Legislative session. More work remains for legislators on this issue prior to the 2018 session. Legislators have highlighted this issue as one that cannot be ignored. The committee will submit a report by Nov. 15 on their findings and recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly.

Senator Dix: Education Reform Benefits Become Reality

During last session Senate Republicans pushed for increased local control for schools across Iowa. Even though those reforms are only a few months old, the results are starting to be seen on the local level. The Cedar Rapids Gazette recently profiled the home school program at the Marion Independent School District. 

According to the article, the Marion home school program is the largest in the state by a significant margin and it draws home school students from around the Cedar Rapids metro area. The article goes on to discuss one of the education reform policies passed last session and how it may impact the Marion home school program.  House File 565 allowed Iowa schools to create flexibility accounts, which permit the allocation of unused funds from one program to another.

These reforms allowed the school board for the Marion School District to consider re-allocating funds from their home school program into a flexibility account. Once the funds are in the flexibility account they may then be used for facility improvements and upgrades. The nearly 1,000 students enrolled in those activities could move from a cramped 7,500 square feet facility to one with over 22,000 square feet to accommodate the programs.

It is encouraging to see schools creatively utilizing the tools the legislature provided to improve the opportunities for students. I look forward to learning of more examples of the benefits of local control in schools, counties and cities across Iowa.

Let’s make it happen!

Senator Dix: Harvest Time

As Iowa farmers continue to work through harvest this year, the ripe fields remind us of the special place we live. Iowa has some of the richest soil in the world and a climate conducive to feeding millions of people all across the globe. Harvest is my favorite time of year. It is a busy time, for me and for thousands of other farmers across the state. This dedication produces the opportunity to literally reap the rewards of the investment in planning, planting, cultivating, and monitoring our crops.

This year the Iowa Senate passed important legislation protecting good producers in the agricultural sector from being victimized by frivolous lawsuits. This law provided no safe haven for bad actors. However, the producers who care about their neighbors, the environment, and the land they leave to the next generation will be protected from baseless lawsuits. Those lawsuits place an undue burden on an industry already struggling with low commodity prices and stubbornly high input costs.

Our agenda has been, and will continue to be, to reduce the size and cost of government, while empowering local officials to make the best choices for their communities. An efficient, effective government allows farmers and all Iowans the ability to enjoy the fruits of their labor during harvest and throughout the year.

Let’s make it happen!

Senator Dix: Working Toward Tax Reform

Leaders in Washington, D.C. released an outline of a plan this week to reform the federal tax code and bring much needed relief to American families. While reform has many more hurdles to clear, this first step is encouraging. Tax reform has the capacity to improve career opportunities for Iowans and all Americans.

Substantial pro-growth tax reform has been a priority for me since my first term in the Iowa House. It enables Iowans to keep more of what they earn and job creators to expand career opportunities for Iowans. Pro-growth tax reform encourages Iowans to invest more in our state, and makes Iowa’s economy more attractive to job creators across the country and even around the world. It reduces government involvement in the economy and rewards those individuals who choose to take risks. It increases the amount of income for all Iowans by reducing their tax burden and as a result of the growth in the economy it increases state revenue.

State revenue estimates have repeatedly declined over the last two years. A slower rate of revenue growth means less money to fund priorities like education and public safety. The solution to slow revenue increases is bold pro-growth reforms like the Iowa Legislature passed in 2017, and tax reform in 2018. Those revenues can then be used to spend on education, health care and public safety.

Senator Dix: Addressing Iowa’s Budget Challenges

On Wednesday, Governor Reynolds confirmed a special session was not needed to deal with a budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2017, the budget that was approved by Senate Democrats last year and ended June 30.

To cover the predicted $14.6 million shortfall, the Governor plans on transferring money from state’s economic emergency fund. State revenue dipped from an expected growth rate of 2.7 percent in the FY 2017 budget, to actual growth of 2.5 percent. This decrease reduced projected revenue from $7.106 billion to actual revenue of $7.095 billion.

We have always known it was going to be a tough budget year. As recently as 2013 the state had approximately $927 million in surplus revenue. From that year to last year, Senate Republicans sounded the alarm about the rate of spending. Spending above ongoing revenue year after year brought the state budget to this point.  Senate Republicans have promised time and time again to manage the state’s budget more responsibly while also keeping our promises to education and improving career opportunities for Iowans.

Last fall, Iowans overwhelmingly chose Senate Republicans to take our state in a different direction – one that is fiscally responsible, attractive to job creators, and a place families want to come and put down roots. Since that time we have set upon the task of spending restraint, and the FY 2018 budget spends less than the FY 2017 budget the legislature passed during the 2016 session. Iowans work hard for their money and the state needs to be prudent on where and how we are spending tax dollars – your hard-earned money.

As we close the book on one budget year and start to focus on the next, Senate Republicans will continue to ensure our state is spending your tax dollars wisely and where they would be best used.

Let’s make it happen!

Senator Dix: The Importance of Local Elections

This week many Iowans cast a vote in their local school board election. Local elections have the biggest impact on your daily life, yet participation is lower than federal and statewide races. County, city, and school board leaders are responsible for the direct spending of your state and local tax dollars.

Iowa Senate Republicans understand policies are best executed at the local level. During the 2017 Legislative Session, Republicans provided more authority to school boards over spending and increased local responsibility for programs and workforce to ensure prosperous and stable communities in our state.

A significant portion of Iowa’s budget is invested in each level of education for the next generation. The legislature expanded Flexibility Accounts for schools to ensure money allocated to each district is invested annually in the performance and education of our kids. Collective bargaining reform eliminated costly government mandates, which inhibited creativity and achievement in our communities and schools.

Teachers, administrators, school board members, and residents all have a vested interest in the success of their local education system. It is vital that elected local leaders are effective in implementing these reforms. I hope Iowans made time to vote for school boards this week and will plan to vote in city council elections in November. These elections shape the direction of your schools and community, now more than ever.

Let’s make it happen!

Senator Bill Dix: Back to School

The turning of the calendar from August to September signals the end of summer and back to school for kids across the state. Iowa ranks in the top ten for education according to the 2017 US News Report review. It continues to lead the nation in high school graduation rates and dual enrollment. Enrollment in public schools is growing for the fifth year, after 14 years of it declining between 1997-1998 and 2011-2012. Education in Iowa is growing and producing quality students ready to make an impact in our communities and state.

During the 2017 Legislative Session, Senate Republicans made education a top priority. We made sure our schools received notice of State Supplemental Aid in a timely manner for planning and local budgets. We increased the 2017-2018 education funding by $40 Million, or $6,664 total per pupil funding. Further, while revenue estimates continued to decline, state funding increases for Iowa schools remained.

Prior to changes made this session, Schools operated under cookie cutter policies, often not reflecting their priorities or capabilities. By shifting more control and responsibilities of the budget to our school boards, it allows our local leaders to invest in quality programs for our children. Two bills passed the legislature in 2017 expanded funding flexibility for Iowa’s school districts.

House File 564 provides new allowable uses for specific funding received by school districts and requires the Board of Education to give deference to school boards when the Board of Education adopts rules. It lifts restrictions previously put on a series of funds for education, giving more local control to our schools, and letting them decide better ways to use their funding.

House File 565 allows for the creation of a Flexibility Account within the General Fund of each school district to collect unexpended and unobligated funds from a few different sources of categorical funding. This also allows the district to use those funds for purposes of the original source or other general fund purposes.

Education is part of Iowa’s success, which is moving this state forward. Senate Republicans will continue to support our schools and reduce the barriers imposed by Des Moines. I am proud to have been educated in Iowa and my kids are receiving that same quality education today.

Let’s make it happen!

Senator Bill Dix: Change Brings Results

In my opening day speech to the Iowa Senate I promised Iowans the Senate would pass legislation to expand growth and opportunities for all of us. My colleagues and I kept our promise to Iowans by passing bold, pro-growth reforms. Over the last several days the results of those reforms are becoming clearer.

Governor Reynolds released a statement on August 18, noting the state’s unemployment insurance tax rate will decrease an average of 25% on 2018 wages. This decrease, taking effect January 1, 2018, reflects the solvency of our unemployment trust fund. The latest unemployment numbers, released on the same day, also shows the strength of our workforce. Iowa’s unemployment rate remained at 3.2 percent and below the national rate of 4.3 percent in July.

A few days later on August 23, it was announced Iowa’s Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen is reviewing another proposed rate decrease in the state’s workers’ compensation premiums. The Iowa Insurance Division on July 1, 2017, approved a rate decrease of 3.9% and this latest proposal is an additional 8.7% decrease for January 1, 2018.

Recently, Iowa current workers’ compensation premium rates were the 24th highest in the country, ten years ago those same rates were the fifth lowest. Bureaucrats and judges implemented costly and anti-competitive decisions, negatively impacting businesses and employees in this state. The passage of Workers’ Compensation reform restored the balance to Iowa’s system and lowered costs for job creators.

These new rates are a victory for all Iowans. When the cost of doing business in Iowa is lower, employers have the opportunity to grow their businesses, the state and local economies benefit from their investments, Iowa is more attractive to new businesses and entrepreneurs, and those results are more career opportunities for Iowans.

This latest news shows these reforms are shaping Iowa’s economy to be more vibrant and competitive with any state in this country. And together, as Iowans, we can achieve that goal.

Let’s make it happen!