The 2012 session of the Iowa General Assembly will commence Jan. 9. This will be my 10th year as your voice, advocate and senator.
The2011 session was the most partisan, divisive and raucous I've experienced. It's difficult to negotiate with some of my legislative colleagues who believe that compromise is the equivalent of selling out. It's equally difficult to work with a governor who tried to destroy something vital to our children - early childhood education - and shut down Workforce Development offices when 100,000 of our fellow Iowans are unemployed. I was one of five legislators who sued the governor to enjoin him from closing these offices after the Legislature specifically appropriated $3 million to keep them open. The governor line-item vetoed the legislation (SF517), but kept the money earmarked for the offices and used it for kiosks instead. The governor has the right to line-item legislation, but I felt it was unconstitutional for him to disregard legislative intent by keeping the money while closing the offices. The Iowa District Court agreed with me and declared the governor had acted unconstitutionally. That decision was a victory for Iowans.
The Branstad administration also disregarded a legislation directive and appropriation to hire 40 new correctional officers to alleviate the problem of fewer officers at the same time as the record-high inmate population. One of our first actions will be to make a supplemental appropriation to hire correctional officers. These men and women deserve and need our support because they risk their lives and safety every day. They protect us. We must protect them.
In spite of these and other differences, the 2011session was relatively successful. We balanced a $6 billion budget without increasing taxes. The state's revenue is increasing and there is over a billion dollars in the bank. We preserved preschools in spite of the governor's attempts to first "voucherize" them and then starve them. We created a new public-private partnership for economic development. We exempted active duty Iowa National Guard pay from Iowa income tax. We improved transparency and accountability in state government. We banned designer drugs.
We missed several opportunities, which I hope we'll correct during the 2012 session. The Senate proposed a health insurance tax credit to help 60,000 small Iowa businesses. The House didn't take it up. The Senate passed consumer rebates for small solar and wind projects. The House didn't take it up.
The House and Senate passed a bipartisan tax cut for 240,000 Iowa families earning less than $45,000 a year, but the governor vetoed this tax cut because it wasn't packaged with his proposed tax cut for large out-of-state corporations.
The House and Senate in bipartisan cooperation appropriated $10 million for the Community Attraction and Tourism program that supports public-private partnerships for economic development, one of the few tools small communities have. The governor vetoed it.
There were partisan differences between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate. That's not necessarily bad and in fact may even be healthy. There were legitimate differences between legislative branch and executive branch. These differences are components democracy because voters elected all 150 legislators and the governor. Democracy doesn't mean a lack of differences. But those differences must be dealt with in a civil manner. That civility was often lacking during the 2011 session and sometimes became personal. We must behave with civility. We must not demagogue issues. We must work together because regardless whether a Republican or Democrat, we work for the same bosses - the people of Iowa. I pledge to continue to work in a bipartisan, cooperative, collaborative manner, with civility, behaving as a gentleman and gentle man.
The stakes are too high to do otherwise.
I believe all four caucuses and the governor will work together on several important matters in 2012.
Commercial property tax relief. The House and Senate passed very different legislation in2011. We legislators and the governor all concur that we must fix commercial property tax. I believe the Senate version is preferable to the House version. The Senate bill cuts commercial property tax by $200 million, funds it, and does not transfer it to residential property taxpayers, nor does it harm local governments. I believe we will create a conference committee composed of an equal number of representatives and senators early in the session to work out differences.
Education reform. I commend Gov. Terry Branstad for orchestrating the Education Summit in June. I was one of hundreds of interested people to participate. Speaker after speaker praised early childhood education and I believe the governor now understands the importance of preschool. I don't think we'll have to fight that battle again. I hosted five education town hall meetings and served on a panel with Department of Education Director Jason Glass for community college presidents and trustees.
Frankly, town hall participants identified more concerns and questions than answers. Perhaps the biggest question is this: How will the governor pay for his proposals? Some of the more onerous details, such as a 5 percent cap on master teachers and taking them out of the classroom half-time been postponed by the governor. References to Community colleges, Area Education Agencies, preschools and special education are remarkably void. It's a work in progress. I believe most legislators concur with the governor that we must have high expectations and fair measurements for students and teachers, and more rigor, relevance and accountability in the classroom, while embracing innovation and raising academic standards.
More "desk time," extending hours and/or days in the classroom will be thoroughly debated. Retaining third-graders who are not up to reading standards, as Gov. Branstad proposes, will be met with a lot of legislative opposition, including from me. Retaining a student may be appropriate in some cases, but I will resist a "one-size-fits-all" remedy from the "Big School Board under the Golden Dome." These decisions must be made locally by teachers, parents, guidance counselors and administrators, not by state government. We know nothing about the child's health, family dynamics or social-economic status. Perhaps the student who is lacking reading skills is a stellar math student. And we certainly don't want 12-year-old third-graders.
I support the governor's goals, but I'm cautious because during the 2011 session he proposed the worst state budget ever for local schools and nearly destroyed preschools. He doesn't say how he will fund his reforms. Many legislators will not support transferring funds from existing initiatives such as professional growth opportunities for teachers. The governor will combine his "state of the state" address and his budget message during the first week of the session, so he will presumably tell legislators how he proposes paying for his plans.
Mental health redesign. Consumer needs for mental health services has outgrown counties ability to pay. CPCs (Central Points of Coordination) that serve people with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, brain injuries and developmental disabilities will end in 2013, so the Legislature must create a system to replace them. Six to 15 regional entities have been proposed. I believe the state should pick up more of the cost of services, but counties should have some "skin in the game" too. The existing education foundation formula could serve as a model, equalizing appropriate services regardless if the individual resides in a property tax-rich county or property tax-poor district. It also affords fairness to property taxpayers. I have met with dozens of providers, consumers, county supervisors, CPCs and family members. I believe the best system will include more state assistance, but decision-making and delivery of services at the local level where providers, et al, know the consumers and their needs. There are strongly held views on just how to provide and pay for these services.
Road Use Fund. It's been nearly three decades since Road Use Fund (gas tax) was increased. As a percent of the cost of a gallon of gas, it's about one-third, the same as when gas was a dollar per gallon. If we don't act, there will be no money for new highway construction by 2015. My constituents know the importance of increasing the gas tax (which I view as a users' fee, not a tax) because we all want to complete a four-lane Highway 20 from Dubuque to Sioux City. And why not let out-of-state drivers help pay for the highways they use? There is also the issue of safety.
Past efforts to increase this users' fee were foiled by then-Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat. Now it seems that Republican Terry Branstad is a reluctant prophet, and has suggested postponing any increase for at least a year. I believe such an increase would pass in the Senate, and with the expert guidance and support of my friend and colleague, Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, chair of the House Transportation Committee, we may be able to place it on the governor's desk. The governor has hinted that although he won't lobby for the increase, he might sign it into law. The conventional wisdom is that the gas tax would go up a nickel in 2013 and another nickel increase in 2014.
Veterans assistance. As chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I am proud of the 40-some laws we've passed to serve Iowa's veterans and their families. I am told that we've passed more comprehensive veterans legislation (with unanimous or near-unanimous bipartisan support) in the last five years than six World War II. But we must do more. It breaks my heart when troops who survived the war come home and commit suicide because of PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - and high unemployment numbers, exacerbated for those with service-connected injuries and disabilities.
I am authorizing legislation that will provide better counseling for returning veterans, including job-interviewing skills, and incentives for civilian employers who hire them. I will work with the governor, adjutant general, the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans service organizations to frame and pass this important legislation.
Even though state revenues are coming in faster than in the past and we have a surplus of $1 billion, we must refrain from overspending. We will again balance the budget with a tax increase (except for the Road Use Fund users' fee already noted).
Obviously there will be dozens of other bills that will be considered. In a representative democracy like ours, it is essential that constituents communicate with their elected leaders. I sincerely and seriously invite you to share with me your views on matters of interest and issues of importance. I can't tell you how many times a simple e-mail or phone call ("Daryl, this is how this bill affects my ---") has alerted me to another point of view and has often changed the way I would have otherwise voted. I know I speak for my legislative colleagues too, encouraging you to let us know what you think.
Thank you for keeping in touch.
Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, represents Calhoun, Greene and Webster counties. After the 2012 elections, he will lose Greene County, but will pick up Humboldt and Pocahontas counties. He chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, is vice chair of the Local Government Committee, and serves on the Commerce, Education and Transportation committees. He is the chair of the joint House-Senate International Relations Committee, and is vice chair of the joint Transportation and Infrastructure Appropriations Subcommittee.
You can contact Beall at email@example.com, or at his home phone, 573-7889. Letters can be sent to his home address, 1928 N. 22nd St., Fort Dodge, IA 50501, or during the legislative session to Sen. Daryl Beall, Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319.