Senate President Charles Schneider’s opening day remarks as prepared.
Good morning and welcome to the second session of the 88th General Assembly.
As I said last session, I am honored to serve as President of the Iowa Senate. I appreciate the trust you have placed in me, and I will work hard every day to fulfill the obligations of this office.
Every year, fifty senators from different parts of the state gather in this chamber. We have different backgrounds. We represent different constituencies. We are from different generations. But we share a common goal – to make Iowa an even better state in which to live, work, and raise a family. I want to thank each of you for your service to our great state. I look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.
We begin this session with our state in a strong fiscal position. As a result of responsible budgeting during the last three sessions, our reserve accounts are full, and we have a significant budget surplus.
In times like this, there is pressure to spend. While there are places where new investments make sense, it’s important for us to remember that we are spending taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers expect us to spend responsibly. And if the state receives more revenue than is necessary to fund generally agreed-upon priorities, those same taxpayers expect us to return the surplus to them.
The conventional wisdom among the press corps, political pundits, and even some legislators, is that it is not possible to accomplish big things during the session immediately preceding an election. I reject this notion outright. In fact, we passed the largest income tax cut in state history just two years ago during an election year. We even adjourned after our per diem days had expired.
The reality is that the challenges we face do not wait for a non-election year to confront us. We face them every year we are in session. Chief among them this session is the shortage of skilled workers in our state. This stifles our economic growth and keeps us from reaching our full potential. We must make Iowa a more attractive destination for talent.
Iowa has a lot to offer individuals, families, and businesses. We have an outstanding education system, an educated workforce, a strong work ethic, low unemployment, outdoor recreational opportunities, and friendly people.
Those advantages alone, however, have not been enough to train, keep, and recruit as many people as we need to fuel our growing economy. There is more we can do.
First, we can improve our tax climate. We know a state’s tax climate can attract people. It can also drive them away. According to the Tax Foundation, Iowa ranks 42nd in business tax climate. The income tax cut bill we passed two years ago has improved our ranking, and it will continue to improve as the bill phases in over time. Still, it is a barrier to growth and an area where we must improve. The more we can lower income taxes, the sooner Iowans will be able to pay off student loans, buy a home, start a family, save for their children’s education, or put aside money for retirement.
Second, we can remove barriers to work. Excessive occupational licensing is the proverbial government red tape of our era. Unelected bureaucrats should not impede people who move to Iowa from working in an occupation for which they were licensed in their home state. If someone who moves to Iowa is a doctor, electrician or other licensed professional, whether they come from Boston or Bangladesh, Iowa should welcome them to the workforce as quickly as possible.
Finally, we can improve how our assistance programs work. Our programs should promote work and career development. Unfortunately, for Iowans receiving childcare benefits, that is not always the case. Far too often, I have heard from constituents and business leaders who say people turn down opportunities to advance in their careers because they risk losing their childcare benefits. This is unacceptable. We need to find a way to reform this benefit to allow people receiving it to have a better shot at their American dream.
While the shortage of skilled workers is a major challenge for us this session, it is not the only one we face. We must continue to find opportunities to position rural Iowa to compete in the 21st Century. We must continue to improve access to mental health services.
These and other issues we will address this session are big challenges, but that does not mean they are insurmountable. We can achieve great things for our fellow Iowans if we work together.
I wish everyone in this chamber, including the staff, clerks, and pages, a happy, healthy, and productive legislative session. I look forward to working with all of you to make our state an even better place.
God bless you all, and God bless the great state of Iowa.