2018 Legislative Session: Opening Day Comments Iowa House Democratic Leader Mark Smith


To watch the full video of Representative’s Smith’s remarks go to: https://www.facebook.com/representativemarksmith/videos/1548648385172057/

Thank you, Madam Speaker and good morning members of the Iowa House of Representatives.

I especially want to welcome Representative Jon Jacobsen and Representative Phil Miller, who were elected in special elections held during the interim. Congratulations on your honor and responsibility to represent the people of your districts.

Over the interim, we lost two members who devoted a good deal of their lives to this body: Representative Greg Forristall and Representative Curt Hanson. Both wanted to keep the seriousness of their illnesses as quiet as possible. Both will be missed.

I once had the honor of sitting next to Representative Hanson. In all my years here, I have never seen someone interact with constituents better than Curt. He was patient and kind. He had a folksy manner in which he could disagree and still be on friendly terms. This is a business where you often create enemies, but Curt never did.

Curt was a drivers education teacher for over forty years. I can only imagine some of those car rides flying through county highways in rural SE Iowa. I believe these experiences gave him his ever calm demeanor, no matter how stressful the situation. I spent a good amount of time with Curt close to the end and his ability to bring levity to his own situation always amazed me. He will be missed dearly.

House Democrats believe it’s time for the Legislature to work together and get back to the basics. That means focusing our efforts on good jobs and boosting our skilled workforce. It means renewing our commitment to public schools. And it means working together to make health care both more affordable and accessible.

It’s our job here to make life better for Iowans and their families, not make it more difficult.

Since we left the Statehouse last May, a lot has happened.

The gross mismanagement of the state budget has been on display consistently since we adjourned last year. In just a few short years, the state budget has gone from a $900 million surplus to a $259 million deficit last year.
After putting $130 million on the state’s credit card to balance the budget in the closing days of session last year, the 2017 budget went in deficit for the third time last summer. Our new Governor announced she would transfer money and put millions more on the state’s credit card to cover the deficit yet again.

After reviewing the law carefully, members of the House Democratic Caucus joined State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald in expressing concern about the transfer because it did not meet the requirements of our law. However, the Governor illegally transferred the money anyway. So, the first order of business this session has to be to clean up the 2017 budget mess. Next, this body will have to take action on the 2018 budget, which is now in deficit, because the budget you approved last session spent more than we took in. Again.

House Democrats will work this session to protect the taxpayers of Iowa and restore fiscal discipline. We don’t believe Iowans should be forced to clean up the budget mess and we will work to hold both the majority party and the Governor accountable.

Since we last met, there has been a lot of discussion about Iowa’s skilled workforce. I’ve heard from members on both sides of the aisle that this must be a top priority this session and I couldn’t agree more. Iowa businesses want better trained workers. Iowans want to improve their incomes by furthering their education. At no time in our state’s history has the need for education and training after high school been more important.

I’m optimistic that we can make good progress this session in growing our skilled workforce.

However, it’s essential that this body look at the big picture. We’ll never reach our goal of increasing the number of skilled workers here in Iowa if we don’t acknowledge and address the fundamental challenges facing public education today.

Our public schools and educators have been asked to do more with less for too many years. School leaders are warning us that the Legislature’s continued anemic investment in public schools does not give them the tools they need to prepare Iowa students to compete in the global economy. They have warned us about the struggles to maintain the quality of life in rural communities and the over-reliance on property taxes to fund education because of a lack of investment from the Legislature. Now, our public schools worry about vouchers siphoning money away from our public schools.

This body must also acknowledge the challenges in higher education. Every dollar cut from higher education results in higher tuition and more debt for Iowans who want to improve their skills and offer more to their communities and state. Last session, over $20 million was stripped from our community colleges and universities which led to another round of tuition hikes for Iowa students. We can’t continue to make higher education unaffordable and out of reach for thousands of students and expect to fix the skilled worker shortage we face at the same time.

House Democrats believe it’s time for the Legislature to renew our commitment to public schools and keep training after high school affordable for all so we can grow our skilled workforce.

In the first decade of this century, the Iowa General Assembly worked together to provide a greater degree of health care to its people than other states. A decade later when the Affordable Care Act was enacted, Republicans and Democrats worked together again to give Iowans more options for their health care.

Since that time, however, our healthcare system has deteriorated rapidly and nowhere is that more apparent than Medicaid privatization. Some providers have closed and others have taken on debt because they aren’t getting paid. Iowans are still scrambling to find the care they need. The whole system was thrown in chaos again when one of the private companies left Iowa and left over 200,000 Iowans in the lurch. Because of privatization, Iowans are getting less care and have fewer options today.

The good news is there was bipartisan agreement at the Health Policy Committee meeting last month that Medicaid privatization is failing Iowans right now. It’s up to us to fix these problems this session — and quickly — before more Iowans die unnecessarily.

Since we last met here, more tragic deaths have occurred as a result of our failing mental health system. Since I first began work as a social worker 43 years ago, research has unraveled more and more of the mysteries of the human brain. With more precision and at earlier stages, mental illnesses can be detected and treated.

However, as policy makers, we have not kept up with the science. Much more can and should be done to intervene and treat mental health conditions. We need to invest in the training of all levels of mental health professionals; develop a community-based, comprehensive treatment approach that includes substance abuse disorders; and fix the way we fund our system that punishes rural counties with higher rates than urban counties.

My grandfather was an eighth grade educated Iowa farmer who lived by the rules of feeding your family, honoring the soil, and being a good neighbor. Feeding our family is actually being nurturing to all who make Iowa their home.

Honoring our soil is one of the most important actions we can take and being a good neighbor encourages us to have clean water and fair policies so that we welcome those around us. We have three pressing obligations this session: 1) to continue producing food for the world, 2) to replenish our soil so that we hand it down to future generations, and 3) to improve water quality. We cannot wait longer to address these critical issues.

In the past, we have worked in a bipartisan manner to address the challenges we face and we, as House Democrats, stand ready to do so again. However, our involvement should and must be from the beginning.

Whether it’s health care, water quality, education, or building a skilled workforce, we can always say there will be another time to make progress. We can always put off until tomorrow what we should do today. Those restrains did not stop our ancestors for having the courage to tackle the problems facing them in the Great Depression or when they were breaking Iowa’s sod for the first time. It’s time for us to tackle the challenges we face today. Together.

I close with a quote from the elegant poet, Maya Angelo: “History with its wrenching pain cannot go unlived, but when faced with courage, need not be lived again.” A bright future for Iowa is a head, if we prepare for it today.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.