Dear Governor Reynolds,
Congratulations on making it through your first six months as Iowa’s first female governor. It has to be an incredibly difficult job in the best of times. It doesn’t feel like the best of times though, does it? As you prepare for the 2018 legislative session, Iowa is coming off a year when legislators were forced to cut state spending by $118 million. Legislators also shifted $131 million from its reserves during the session to cover further shortfalls.
You were quoted in the Des Moines Register last month saying that, “We are anticipating another tough budget year.” I think most of us anticipate that it will be a tough budget year as well, but it’s important to recognize why the budget is going to be tight. You seem to be telling Iowans that the budget is tight due to a slump in the farm economy and a loss of sales taxes due to online retail transactions. While I am certain that those may be factors, isn’t it possible that the 2013 tax cut that Governor Branstad signed into law may be the true cause of our problems? The cost of Iowa business tax credits, enacted by Republicans in 2013, has doubled in just five years amounting to over $400 million in Fiscal Year 2018 (http://www.iowafiscal.org/sensible-improvements-for-iowa-taxes/). This is where I get confused Governor. Isn’t the goal of giving businesses and wealthy people massive tax cuts and tax credits to increase economic growth? If I’m not mistaken, five years after the tax cuts that Governor Branstad characterized as largest in state history were supposed to ignite Iowa’s economy we are “anticipating another tough budget year”. Am I missing something?
The frustrating thing is that I’m just a sweaty middle-aged band director and I can see how this is all going to play out. A year ago, prior to the 2016 elections I wrote an article about the “Kansas Experiment” (https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/iowans-meet-our-friends-from-kansas/). In that post I suggested that Iowa Republicans were willingly following the same failed game plan as our friends from Kansas. A year later and it all still applies. This non-economist can tell you exactly what is going to happen. Big businesses have more money in their pockets, you and your legislative colleagues will tell us that times are tough, and Iowans will get less resources for schools and other critical public services. I have yet to have anyone dispute that the great Kansas Experiment of 2010 or the great Iowa Tax Cuts of 2013 have done anything other than gut the ability of our states to provide necessary services. And, don’t look now, but your friends in Washington D.C. are following the playbook as well, but that’s a story for another day. So, what can you do? The good folks at the Iowa Fiscal Partnership offer some pretty good suggestions (http://www.iowafiscal.org/sensible-improvements-for-iowa-taxes/). As governor, you should propose reigning in those business tax credits; they aren’t working. You should also plug tax loopholes across the board. Special interests have carved out numerous loopholes in the corporate income tax that must be addressed. It is critical that you, as governor, recognize what isn’t working and what isn’t fair and do something about it.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, you must help set the tone for these conversations. The truth is that the 2017 legislative session in Iowa was flat out mean-spirited. Through cuts to programs that provided child care and preschool services for Iowa’s most at-risk young people, through gutting collective bargaining rights for public employees, through the disastrous move to privatize Medicaid, and through the continued underfunding of K-12 and post-secondary education, the legislature refused to look out for the interests of regular Iowans. Much of work of the 2017 legislature happened outside of the public eye. Much of the legislation passed at the statehouse was done in late night sessions with little time for the public to weigh in.
You are in a unique position to change the way Iowa goes about making this a great place to live, work, and go to school in. This is your first (and maybe only) opportunity to set the state’s agenda with your Condition of the State address in January. You can ask that Iowa’s legislators address the failures of the 2013 tax cuts. You can ask that your Republican colleagues end their assault on public employees. You can ask that our legislators recognize that Iowa’s public schools are critical to a strong and growing state. You can insist that our legislators work transparently and honestly. Most importantly you can model civility as we have these important conversations.
We have several friends in common and they all promise me that you are a good person; I am sure that is true. Like you, I am eager to see Iowa succeed. I am hopeful that legislators (and a governor) who look out for the interest of all Iowans will be rewarded. I am also hopeful that legislators (or a governor) who serve the interests of out of state special interests will be punished. Iowans need to be the ones answering Iowa’s challenges. Happy holidays (I’m happy to say Merry Christmas, it just seems a little early) to you Governor. I hope you are able to support a 2018 legislative session that we can all be proud of.