State and local leaders in Iowa, like our counterparts around the country, are confronting a once-a-century pandemic. I am proud of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ work to keep our state safe by making tough decisions based on facts and evidence provided by public health officials and clearly communicating those decisions to Iowans on a near daily basis.
Local leaders are also doing important work around the state to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. All these officials deserve thanks from all Iowans for their tireless work.
The Iowa Legislature suspended its session on March 16 to slow the spread of the virus. We originally targeted April 15 as a potential day to return. We announced last week that we intend to push this back until at least May 1 in compliance with President Trump and Gov. Reynolds’ guidance to the public.
When the Legislature does resume session, it will enter a whole new world than it left in March. My focus will be on how we can protect the physical and economic security of Iowans.
I expect that when the Legislature returns to session, the virus will be under control, but that control may be tenuous. We will first need to determine whether Gov. Reynolds has the resources she needs to protect the health and welfare of Iowans based on the conditions at that time.
We will also need to take steps to improve the health of our state’s economy. The Iowa Restaurant Association projects that as many as 20 percent of their members may not survive the crisis. Iowa businesses in numerous other sectors are struggling to survive a near-halt to their economic activity. While the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) is doing critical work to help Iowa businesses, their authority absent statutory changes is limited. I believe the Legislature will need to act to enhance and scale up IEDA’s efforts.
Finally, legislators will need to address our state’s financial health. Since Republicans took control of the state Senate in 2017, we have turned structural deficits into surpluses. We started this year with more than $800 million in our reserve accounts, and a structural surplus of $200 million on top of that. Because we resisted the urge by some to spend this surplus, our state is in a strong position to weather this crisis without cuts to other important social programs.
Before the crisis, Iowa’s trajectory was strong. Our sound fiscal management will help Iowa’s economy weather this storm and regain its footing.