2017 Session Opening Day Remarks
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith
Thank you, Madam Speaker. Let me begin my remarks with a humble congratulations to you and your colleagues because the voters of Iowa have entrusted you with the governance of this state.
I like the scripture in Isaiah that says, “He gives power to those who have no might.”
As the minority party in this chamber, the might that we bring to this body in this time and place is our voices, our ideas, and our commitment to a better Iowa. This is because we, too, seek what is best for our state and for our people.
We come to this legislative session after what many consider to be the most divisive presidential election in American history. For the fourth time in our history, the majority of the people choose one candidate and the Electoral College has chosen another.
As we embark on the 2017 legislative session, uncertainty reigns in both DC and Des Moines. But I hope the divisiveness and political bitterness that rules DC can be avoided here in Des Moines.
What we do know is that there is much to be done and we, as the Democratic members of this body, stand ready and willing to work with the majority party to make progress for all Iowans again.
Income inequality and stagnant wages. Higher health care costs and fewer services. Rising tuition and outrageous student debt. Expensive child care costs and a shortage of providers. Retirement insecurity. For far too long, the deck has been stacked against everyday Iowans who are working hard but still not getting ahead.
It’s time to fix these problems and make progress again.
It starts in education. So far, we’ve heard from Republican leaders that state supplemental aid will be set early in session and that’s good news. But let’s not forget this body is already one year late and it hasn’t been done on time for six years. Unfortunately, we’ve also heard of your troubling plans to enact vouchers that will siphon millions in our tax dollars from public schools and direct it to homeschools and private schools instead.
Democrats believe public education is and should be the top priority of this body. We can’t afford to shortchange public schools any longer or shift more money away from public schools.
Nowhere is this education debate more important than rural Iowa. Anyone who has lived in Iowa knows that when a school closes in a community, that community dries up and blows away. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Last month, our state’s non-partisan budget experts found policies enacted by the Republican majority have slowed the state’s economy and led to a big downturn in revenue growth. After hundreds of millions in new corporate tax breaks, the state’s budget surplus has evaporated and the budget is now in the red. The transfer of sales and income taxes from everyday Iowans to ease taxes on out-of-state corporations has not produced good jobs, skilled workers, rising incomes for hard-working Iowans, or a stronger economy as was promised. As you consider new tax giveaways, I hope you’ll heed the warning from our own budget experts and consider the failed tax experiments in other states like Kansas before taking action this year.
In recent weeks, I’ve read reports of your agenda to take away women’s rights, voting rights, and worker’s rights. If you decide to take those divisive issues up this year, be prepared for a fight. Our goal is to make the economy work again for all Iowans and our job is to hold this chamber accountable when it isn’t doing what is best for them.
Democrats will work to make public schools first again, not shift resources away from them. Democrats will fight to raise wages for Iowans, not lower them. Democrats will work to expand job training opportunities and keeping higher education affordable, not make it more expensive. Democrats will work to put women on an equal playing field with men, not limit personal health care decisions. Democrats will help working families get ahead, not take away their rights.
My hope is we can commit today to work together and make progress again for all Iowans this session. That’s what Iowans expect and that’s what they deserve.
Thank you Madam Speaker and let’s get to work.