Below are the opening day remarks of Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, as prepared for delivery:
Madam President, Minority Leader Wahls, colleagues, friends and family,
Welcome to the 2023 legislative session.
Six years ago I was proud to address this body as a member of the new majority party and the President of the Senate for the first time. In those comments, I talked about the optimism of this chamber and its goals, to bring bold solutions and create new opportunities in our state.
I said, “When this session ends and people remember the 2017 session, let them say that this was the year that positively changed our state forever. Let them say this was the year an economic revival began in Iowa. Let them say that 2017 was the year the legislature dared to dream big.”
And we did. In that year alone, we started repairing a budget that overspent and passed an overhaul of Iowa’s laws regarding the Second Amendment. The legislature also implemented common sense voter ID requirements, giving Iowans more confidence in our elections. We passed legislation to put taxpayers back at the bargaining table and allow school boards and administrators to reward good teachers and get rid of bad teachers. And we passed legislation to protect the sanctity of life.
The following year, in my opening day comments, I said, “It is our job to ensure our kids and our grandkids inherit an even better state from us. We must work diligently on behalf of the next generation so they have opportunities and experiences even greater than our own.”
And we did. This body passed, what was at the time, a historic tax relief package to prioritize Iowa’s working families and reduce rates, reduced the number of tax brackets, and most importantly reduced the amount of taxes small business owners, farmers and families were paying. We passed a bill to address water quality in Iowa, expanded online education, and recognized life at the sound of heartbeat.
Despite claims of voter backlash to our agenda, in 2018 we were the only Republican caucus in the country to add seats. I was proud to welcome three more members to our caucus, expanding our caucus to 32 Republicans in the Iowa Senate. In my opening day address in 2019, I said, “Our mission is simple: Improve the lives of Iowans through challenging the status quo and reforming Iowa for the next generation.”
And we did. We reformed the judicial nominating process by lessening the influence of a small group of lawyers and instead expanded Iowans’ voices in that process through their governor. We also moved forward bills to bring more people into our workforce, created a children’s mental health system, and brought more transparency and accountability to the property tax process.
In 2020, our state and our policies were tested in ways we had never dreamed, but we were ready, and Iowa was recognized as one of the most fiscally resilient states in the country throughout the pandemic. Iowa was also named the fastest state in the country to recover economically from the pandemic.
Voters again endorsed our agenda in 2020 by returning the largest partisan majority in the Iowa Senate since the 1970s. In 2021, I said, “This year we are focused on putting our state back on a path of success and prosperity after all these challenges.”
And we did. We increased funding for mental health services, increased funding for broadband, and ensured Iowa students had the option to be in the classroom full-time. We passed more broad tax relief for farmers, small businesses, and property taxpayers. We delivered more free speech protections for Iowa students, and protections for our brave law enforcement officers.
Finally, last year, I said “When Republicans collect too much of your hard-earned dollars, we will keep our promise to give it back.”
And we did. We passed a historic tax cut package, eliminating the tax on retirement income, which went into effect one week ago. We set a path for rates to be reduced from close to 9% to less than 4% and we reduced the highest tax rate in the country on Iowa employers. According to the Tax Foundation, when our reforms are fully implemented Iowa’s tax ranking would move from 46th to 15th. The improvement of 31 spots is tied with North Carolina for the biggest improvement in the history of their rankings. All of those reforms led us to today.
Today is a historic day. 34 Republican Senators will take their seats and we will comprise the first supermajority in this chamber in half a century. This historic achievement didn’t just happen. It happened because we delivered common sense solutions to the most important issues facing Iowans.
Throughout my time here as the majority leader, I have been proud to hear the word “historic” again and again. From tax relief, to mental health, education reform, the 2nd Amendment and life, the Iowa Senate has set a bold and historic vision and delivered results to meet that vision. Now is the time to set the vision for the next year to deliver on promises made to Iowans to make this the best state in the country.
Republicans in the Iowa Senate do not shy away from hard work or hard decisions, and Iowans have rewarded us for it. With the historical successes we have had, I think it is safe to say we are ready for bigger, bolder, and better.
We have spent the last several months talking to Iowans throughout the state – parents, farmers, small business owners, and taxpayers. Some common themes emerged from those discussions.
Iowans pay some of the highest property taxes in the country, and the system responsible for that problem wasn’t built overnight, and the solution to it won’t be either. But I can tell you, Senate Republicans are up to the challenge on the best long-term strategy for Iowa taxpayers.
We have shown over the last several years that it is possible to fund priorities in a responsible manner, budget sustainably, and still pass historic tax reforms. This example should be a model for local governments on how to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and invest in our state and its people.
Not only is reforming property taxes on the minds of many Iowans, but so is reforming education for Iowa students. Senate Republicans are focused on strengthening education in our state for Iowa students, and that begins with empowering parents to make the best decisions for their child.
In previous years, we passed laws giving parents the option to send their children to school in-person and ensuring open enrollment was accessible for every family. Nobody knows a child better than their parents, and parents deserve a say in what is being taught in the classroom, and to use their tax dollars to send their children to a school that best fits their needs.
Iowans have a choice in almost everything we do, including most educational settings.
If it is good to have a choice in pre-schools, and community colleges, and apprenticeships, and four-year colleges and universities, then Iowa K-12 parents and students should have the choice to choose the school best for their family.
School choice should no longer be an option only for wealthy families. Public and private schools both can prepare Iowa’s next generation for great careers right here in Iowa.
Finally, Iowa’s workforce shortage remains a challenge and we will continue to work on reforms to get more Iowans into the workforce. A tax code that incentivizes work, equipping Iowans with skills they need for those opportunities, and ensuring public assistance programs focus on those Iowans most in need are all policy goals we will continue to pursue. The value and dignity of work is what has made America the greatest country in the world. It is vital we protect that heritage.
Today we start the path to implement more historic reforms in Iowa. We will keep our promises, we will listen, and we will continue to make Iowa a place with great schools, great opportunities, and great people.
Let’s get to work.