Listen Here: Speaker Pat Murphy – 2009 Opening Day Remarks

We could not foresee the national recession that has been occurring and that we are currently in, and we could not have seen the national disasters that affected Iowa this past summer. Iowa had record flooding in certain parts of the state. We had tornadoes that did devastation to communities and took lives. Our biggest challenge this year will be to deal with rebuilding Iowa communities hit by natural disasters.

We are working with the Governor to create a new standing legislative committee: the Rebuild Iowa and Disaster Recovery Committee. I have entrusted Representative Tom Schueller to chair that committee. Tom has a very good background as a city councilman, a person who has worked for a large employer and who also owns a small business and works in construction and knows what real reconstruction is all about.

When we left last year we had an 82 million dollar projected ending balance. That balance is gone, due in part to the recession and the flood. The national recession really eroded those dollars, but we are still better off than most states. We have approximately 620 million dollars sitting in our reserve accounts. Along with that we have a triple A bond rating which means that, quite frankly, financial institutions view the management of the state budget in very good terms.

I appreciate Governor Culver’s actions to keep this year’s budget in balance, first through selective cuts and then across the board cuts to make sure that, as we come in here today, we are operating with a balanced budget for the current fiscal year. But the Governor’s cuts are just a start. We will need to get leaner and meaner as the year goes on. Currently it is estimated that, for the current fiscal year, we will have between 30 and 40 million dollars less in annual revenue than we had last fiscal year. I am sure that we will look at innovative ways to save money, innovative ways to improve state services and move the state forward. And, we need to act quickly.

It is my goal that the first bill we work on this year will address aid for disaster affected areas. And we will expect the “RIO Committee,” as it is going to be called, to work in conjunction with the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees to deal with spending issues related to disaster recovery. Our goal is to have legislation on the Governor’s desk by the end of the month, to show that we are moving quickly to help those adversely impacted by natural disasters.

Last summer, House Democrats proposed a plan to secure Iowa’s economic future by promoting economic growth, creating jobs, and helping middle class families. We want to continue these efforts by making Iowa a green state and creating programs and jobs that help promote alternative energy production and usage in Iowa. A good example is Florida Power and Light, which is currently investing approximately 1.2 billion dollars in wind turbines in the state. We need to continue to be the renewable fuels leader among the 50 states. Whether through ethanol, soy diesel or wind energy, we will push hard to promote renewable fuels.

We also need to continue to look at creating good paying jobs to help foster more economic opportunities for Iowans.

We need to also make sure that we maintain our commitment to health care. Through Medicaid, Hawk-I, private insurance or other program, our goal is to continue to move toward health insurance coverage for every child in Iowa.

But we also need to reward hard work for those people that play by the rules. We need to take aim at CEO’s that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and whose employment practices are tailored to avoid paying taxes and avoid treating workers fairly.

We also need to equip our children for the future. That means that we need to continue our focus on early childhood, K-12 education and making higher education affordable.

I think we have a very good record over the previous two years. The first bill we did two years ago raised the minimum wage for those people at the bottom end of the pay scale. We also focused on small business health insurance reform so people in small businesses could have access to health care. We also made sure that we focused on making Iowa a greener state and we need to continue that effort.

But, it won’t be easy. The cupboard is almost bare. It may not be our fault, but we need to deal with the issues before us and balance the budget before we adjourn.

If we put aside our differences, we can work together to move the state forward. And if I may take this opportunity, I will lobby U.S. Senator Grassley who is sitting in the audience today to do everything he can, along with Senator Harkin, to work to make Tom Vilsack our next Secretary of Agriculture. I think it will be very good for the state and very good for agriculture.

We need to grow the economy, create job opportunities, and make Iowa a green state. We need to help Iowa recover and balance our budget.

Back in the 1960’s, Martin Luther King asked this country to create a society in which individuals are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. In eight days we will swear in a president, an African-American, for the first time in this country. And if you look at what he talked about for the last twenty months, he expressed a unifying theme that reflected back to Dr. King’s remarks.

As he campaigned across Iowa and other states, President-elect Obama didn’t talk about a red America. He didn’t talk about a blue America. He didn’t talk about a white America. He didn’t talk about a black America. He talked about these United States of America. And Americans have come together in ways that they haven’t in recent years. His election, and the themes he stressed during the campaign, demonstrate that we have the ability to come together, to understand that we have differences, and to put those differences aside in a common effort to move the state forward.

Over these next one-hundred days that we are in session, hopefully we will be able find areas of agreement. So that we can improve education, health care, and make government work better. So that we don’t look at each other as Republicans or Democrats, or by the color red or the color blue. Let’s see ourselves as Americans and Iowans and let’s say that our job is to do what we can to make Iowa and the United States a better place.

I thank you for your time. Now we need to get to work and move this state forward. Thank you.