The first week of the 2021 Legislative Session is in the books. Bills are being drafted and moving through the legislative process. At the Capitol we are adjusting to changes due to the pandemic. These changes are to try to keep everyone in the building safe but still conduct our work and give the public access to their elected officials.
This year we are focused on putting our state back on a path of success and prosperity after all these challenges. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: the best recovery plan is a job. This recovery plan means sticking to those same principles guiding us for the last several years. It means freedom to work. It means continuing our work on tax reform, and putting more money back into the pockets of Iowans. It means ensuring the best education for Iowa students, in the classroom, where they learn best.
Tax relief is always going to be a priority for me and a priority for this caucus. We have been working to make our state and our tax climate more competitive with other states. While we have made some progress these last few years, we want to continue relieving some of that tax burden on Iowans. Even with our historic tax cuts, Iowa still has some of the highest taxrates in the country. I think, especially right now, it would be hard to find an Iowan who wouldn’t like a little more money in their pocket and a little more savings to fall back on if they need it. Achieving this goal means conservative state spending is just as important as it has been these last four years.
Because of the budgets Republicans have passed since 2017, Iowa was ready and prepared for uncertain economic times. Our state was recognized as one of the most resilient when it comes to our budget. This does not mean we start raiding the surplus and recklessly spending what we have so carefully built up – it means we are prepared if revenues dip again and not enough money is available to keep the promises we made to public safety, health care and education last year. When Iowans face financial struggles, they tighten their belts and live within their means. They expect their government to do the same.
Each year I say we need to look not just to the next year but to the next generation. In my opinion the biggest concern for the next generation is educating students in our public schools. Despite the pandemic, we must not sacrifice the future of our children. We cannot let a generation of kids fall behind in school. Kids learn better when they are in school, in classrooms, in person, instead of in front of a screen.
The longer they are out of school, the more their skills deteriorate and the further they fall behind. Test scores this fall showed the negative impacts of students not being in school regularly. At midterm this fall, 37% of students in Iowa City schools were failing at least one class, a number nearly double previous years. A similar decline has occurred in other districts around the state and across the country. By any rationale standard this performance is unacceptable. The futures of Iowa students are built on the education they receive today and if we continue to erode that foundation, none of us should be surprised when their opportunities begin to crumble.
Our focus will be on giving parents an option to send their children to school safely. Students need to prepare for whatever lies ahead of them, to recover the ground they have lost over the last 9 months and to restore their future career opportunities.
2020 was extraordinary by any measure. The pandemic and the natural disasters tested Iowans like never before. Challenging times call for strong, principled leadership and the Iowa Senate will continue to deliver results for Iowans. I believe our state is ready to look towards the future, start moving forward, and start our recovery.