Opening remarks from Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque:
Since I have mentioned this person by name during the past two sessions, and before I welcome you all back today, the first thing I would like to say is welcome back to a member who has served our country abroad for the last two years. Representative Zirkelbach, welcome back.
Now to the rest of you, welcome back, it is time for us to go to work.
Last year when Democrats took control we talked about our Plan for Prosperity, which targeted a number of things we thought we needed to do to push this state forward. One of them was the Power Fund to make Iowa the renewable fuels leader of the world. We passed the Power Fund bill last year. But the first bill that we did last year was raising the minimum wage, a bi-partisan effort to help middle-class families, which went into full effect earlier this month.
We also focused on early childhood so four-year olds would have access to education. We focused on teacher quality so we could raise teacher pay from forty-second to twenty-fifth in the nation. We wanted to focus on higher education. The previous five years saw a ninety per cent increase in tuition at our Regents universities. Last year, with the work that we did, the Board of Regents raised tuition by three per cent, two tenths of a per cent below the inflation rate and the lowest tuition increase in twenty-seven years. Along with that, we also focused on what would help middle class families. We passed the small business health insurance bill that was a very bi-partisan effort to offer some new incentives to help small businesses offer health insurance to their employees. We had a tough vote on the tobacco tax, but we put all that money into health care. The Department of Human Services reported that about seventeen thousand more Iowan’s had access to health care due to the initiatives this legislative body passed.
But, we also could not forget the veterans. There were numerous bills that we ended up passing last year to address some of the veterans concerns as they arose from people coming back from Iraq and Afganistan.
Then there were those things that we didn’t accomplish. One of those was property taxes. This year we have an interim committee that Representatives Wise, Shomshor and Olson have worked on, and I know it is a two-year study, but we are hoping this year we will be able to come up with a bi-partisan effort to do some things in the areas of commercial and industrial property taxes to help businesses in this state so they can help middle class families.
This year, we need to focus on our commitments made last year. Continue our focus on early childhood, teacher quality and higher education. We need to make sure that we make higher education affordable to middle class families. We need to make sure that teachers are treated with the respect they need, especially when you think of the fact that we rank statistically in the top five or ten categories in almost every performance measure that is judged by what our children achieve.
We also have an interim committee that dealt with health care. I know everybody has referred to it as Senator Hatch’s committee. But, I know there are five legislators in this chamber that worked on that bill and will be coming to us with recommendations they passed last week to help make health care more accessible and more affordable to middle class families and we are glad that they did that work and we are going to look very closely at those recommendations and see what we can pass.
There is also the issue of veterans retaining their job status when they return from military service. Rep. McKinley Bailey unveiled proposed legislation several months ago. It is not right when somebody goes over and serves their country for one or two years and they don’t get their same job back and they don’t get the same pay they had when they left. Addressing that issue needs to be a priority for this chamber. We need to adopt that legislation early. We need to make sure that we treat our veterans the way they have protected us. That is only out of due respect that we make sure they get their job back with the same pay. So, I am very hopeful that we will be able to get that bill done early this legislative session.
There are some other issues addressed by interim committees that we want to take a look at. There is the whole issue of water quality. We have the Water Quality Planning Task Force which made recommendations. We won’t be able to do every recommendation, but there is no question that we will be focusing on the environment.
There was a huge increase last year for REAP funding, the first increase since 1991. We want to continue to focus on REAP and water quality and also take a look at recommendations from the Climate Change Advisory Council.
We also talk about job growth in Iowa. There is no question that we want Iowa to continue to grow so that young people can find good jobs and settle down and raise families here in Iowa. And we need to find ways to make it happen, because these are the workers and families who will form the middle class of the future. We have the worker’s shortage interim committee that has made recommendations. And we also need to look at what was proposed by the Generation Iowa Commission, which recently issued a guide for creating job opportunities for young people.
There is no question that these are a lot of priorities, but we are going to try to get as many done as we can, while managing to balance the state budget. We have almost six-hundred million dollars in our two reserve accounts. The first time they have been full in years. We have the Senior Living Trust Fund with one-hundred and eighty-two million dollars in it when it was down to seven millions dollars just a few years ago. We are very proud of our budget and we are going to continue to maintain fiscal discipline.
There are also a couple of other issues that we will need to try to address this legislative session. We will, no doubt, need a bi-partisan effort to address some of the issues that Representatives Huser and Lykam and Tjepkes have worked on with regard to infrastructure funding for our roads. We need to see whether there is common ground where we can come together to pass a bill that will help take care of our infrastructure needs so we don’t have the type of tragic incident that occurred in Minnesota last year.
The last point I want make is that, when we talk about job opportunities, we always talk about working hard and playing by the rules and being fair. There is a whole issue now with immigration. I think we need to take a look at why immigrants are coming to Iowa, and in some cases being brought up here without proper documentation, and then getting jobs. Our focus will be on employers who knowingly hiring immigrants who are not properly documented. Hopefully we can do a bill this session that will deal with these issues.
There is no question that we have a lot on our plate. The goal is to get accomplished as much as we can. There is no question that we need to do it in a bi-partisan manner as much as possible. There is no question that at times we are going to have our differences, but our goal is to overcome those differences and find commonality where we can work together and move this state forward. It is not about the one hundred people that are in this room that are duly elected to represent their districts. It is about the three million people that follow our leadership in this chamber to strive for a new future and to move forward. So, with that, I welcome you all back. I look forward to being in session for the next one hundred days or less, hopefully, and to see what we can get done.
I thank you all for your service that you give to both your state and your districts and lets see what we can do now for the citizens of the state of Iowa in a bi-partisan effort. Thank you.