Governor Branstad has been busy since you adjourned in June. I suspect you are aware that he vetoed $56 million dollars in funding for Iowa’s K-12 schools. He also vetoed funding for state universities and for state mental health institutions. He recently decided to unilaterally reinterpret Iowa’s tax code to save some of Iowa’s largest corporations over $40 million.
I’m a little confused. Governor Branstad and many of you have been telling us that Iowa’s financial situation is grave. We have been told that while schools get the “first bite of the apple” when it comes to state funding, that the apple isn’t large enough to sustain funding that keeps up with the rate of inflation. Yet, it is important to reduce taxes for Iowa’s wealthiest corporations (who coincidentally are some of Governor Branstad’s biggest donors). This is all in addition to the impact that the 2013 Commercial Property Tax Cut will have on the state budget in the coming year. Peter Fisher of the non-partisan Iowa Policy Project says that this tax cut will result in a $277 million hit to the state budget next year and that only 11% of that cut will flow to residential and agriculture property owners next year. (http://www.thegazette.com/subject/opinion/guest-columnists/tax-cuts-have-consequences-20150404).
It has been interesting watching Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal run through Iowa in an attempt to become president. Governor Jindal inherited a $1 billion surplus from his Democratic predecessor. Over the last seven years he has managed to turn that into a $1.6 billion deficit using shrewd tactics that seem very similar to what our own governor is doing (http://www.thenation.com/article/bobby-jindal-broke-louisiana/). I suppose that the 1% of Iowa Republicans who are supporting Governor Jindal believe in the policies that have made him incredibly unpopular in Louisiana, but surely no one else believes we should be headed down that path right?
Governor Branstad doesn’t have to run for reelection in 2016, and let’s be honest, he isn’t running for reelection ever again. So, who is going to have to answer for a state government that isn’t going to be able to afford to maintain basic services that Iowans expect? The answer is that you, Iowa’s legislators, are going to have to answer to Iowans. The governor, among others, is hoping that Iowans have short memories. There are those who believe that forcing austerity on Iowa’s schools will result in breaking up unions and lead to the privatization of Iowa’s education system. Is there any indication that this what Iowan’s want? Again, there are those who hope Iowans have short memories.
I am suggesting that a reboot of the 2015 legislative session will not cut it. Legislators on both side of the aisle are going to have to prove that they are listening to Iowans. You are going to have to work together to govern. It won’t be enough to simply stand in lock step with your own party and play a game of chicken with our young people’s future. Iowans memories are better than you think. We are going to remember what Governor Branstad has done during the Imperial Summer of 2015. Someone is going to pay at the ballot box unless the 2016 legislative session looks a lot different than the 2015 session did.
If Iowa looks more like Louisiana or Kansas by November of 2016, I’m not sure I would want to be in the governor’s corner when it came time to stand for election. But, what do I know? Polling suggests that there are at least 20 or 30 Iowans supporting Governor Jindal, so anything is possible.
Patrick J. Kearney