(DES MOINES)—Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) delivered opening remarks to the Iowa House of Representatives today. The following are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Welcome members of the 85th General Assembly. Friends, family, Iowans – it’s good to have you here today as we begin another legislative session.
First of all, thank you. Thank you for the unique honor of being your Speaker. This is an honor I do not take lightly or for granted. This body is a reflection of the great people of Iowa and I will strive every day to uphold the honor of this great institution and all that it represents.
A special welcome to the newly-elected members — this job brings unique responsibilities and a special trust, one that I know you appreciate. The veteran members of this chamber look forward to your energy and the new ideas you bring to the process.
I want to take a moment to thank my family; especially my wife Cathy and our children Kassandra, Kylere, Kale and Keith. It is because of your love and support that I am able to serve the people of our house district and our state in this role. Thank you for your understanding and sharing in the sacrifice of our time together.
As we walk up the steps to do our work in this historic and beautiful building, we are keenly aware of those that have come before us and the history made within these chambers. As we do the people’s business, we should reflect upon the progress that has been made so that we build on these successes and make decisions that move Iowa forward and make Iowa strong.
There is little doubt that we have significant challenges and difficult decisions ahead of us. However if we take the time to listen to Iowans and seek their input, we will do what is right. If we always remember where we come from and who we work for, Iowa will continue on the path to prosperity.
Coming off an election cycle, we have all spent a great deal of time meeting with Iowans in our districts, getting their thoughts and making commitments to them. Two of the most prevalent issues Iowans heard from the campaigns this summer revolve around state spending and comprehensive tax relief. Republicans and Democrats alike ran on these issues and Iowans expect action.
Two years ago, the state faced a $900 million budget shortfall. Today, we have an ending balance of $688 million and our budget reserves are full. Plain and simple, we are in the current budget situation due to the fiscal discipline insisted upon by this chamber and the leadership shown by Governor Branstad over the last two sessions.
This is a fundamental change in legislative decision making, driven not by us, but by Iowans. This is a significant departure from how government operated in the past where every dollar was spent, even some we didn’t have.
Our 99 percent expenditure limitation law has served us well. However, this law allows the Legislature and the governor to spend more than the state collects. This loophole is one House Republicans will not exploit. The only way to ensure sustainable and responsible state spending is to spend no more than we have – that is to say we must balance ongoing revenue with ongoing expenses.
House Republicans have instilled a fundamental culture change and we must not, we will not, retreat now.
This chamber must stick to the principles used to get our fiscal house in order:
• We will not spend more money than the state takes in;
• We will not use one-time money to pay for on-going expenses;
• We will not intentionally underfund entitlement programs to balance the state’s budget;
• We will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.
There are some who see the state’s ending balance as a giant pot of money, and they have already begun devising ways to spend it. If we were to spend everything we were allowed to under law, the state would need to see nine percent growth in 2014 revenues just to maintain that level of funding. This is unsustainable and should caution everyone making spending plans.
Let me be very clear – the ending balance is an overpayment by the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa. It is their money and they should get it back. In order to continue on the path of sound budgeting we must not back up from this pledge. We must not use this overpayment to feed government’s appetite for growth.
Representative Soderberg –Iowans look forward to your committee bringing us a budget that conforms to these principles.
Most, if not all of us in this chamber have also said we need to go to work on reducing taxes, specifically property taxes. I would say that time is long since overdue.
A while back I received an email from Patty, a small business owner in my hometown of Hiawatha. This business has been locally owned and operated for more than 25 years. Patty stated, “I think your message that Iowa is open for business sounds great, but is questionable. Last year our property taxes went up over 14 percent. This should be illegal. It has become difficult for our small business to continue to compete in such a climate. We need new equipment and more employees.”
Our job creators want to hire, they want to invest in our communities. They are being stifled and burdened by our government and their taxes. It’s up to us to change this.
Now is the time for action, not more lip service. Iowans grow weary of campaign promises during election summers that turn into roadblocks and partisan bickering during session winters.
Some talk about giving one group of people this credit and another group that credit. This is neither comprehensive nor predictable tax relief and reform. It is arbitrary, restrictive, and unreliable. We need comprehensive reform, reform for ALL Iowans.
Additionally, local governments are projected to collect more in property taxes than ever before. The rollback has turned into the roll up and homeowners are paying the price in a big way. From Fiscal Year 2012 to 2013 alone, local governments will take an ADDITIONAL $100 million from Iowans. We must act to address this rapid growth in government spending. If we do not, the hardworking taxpayers are again getting the short end of the stick.
During the previous General Assembly, this chamber came together with Governor Branstad and passed four property tax reform bills in a bipartisan manner only to watch them die in the Senate. The 85th General Assembly must do better.
I say again, House Republicans are not dug in on any one plan – we are open to any suggestion, but it must deliver significant and real property tax savings and include all classes of property. The focus cannot be on protecting and maximizing government revenues.
Representative Sands, Iowans look forward to your committee bringing us a property tax reform and relief bill that includes all classifications of property, that moves us away from having the third highest commercial property taxes in the nation and the 16th highest residential property taxes in the nation. Taxpayers need relief they can count on.
All of the proposals we work on must be directed at creating a stronger Iowa – a strong economy, strong budget leadership and strong schools and communities.
House Republicans will:
• Offer meaningful, inclusive, and reliable property tax relief and reforms.
• Eliminate job-killing red tape, burdensome regulations and declare dead any bills that threaten economic growth such as repealing Right to Work.
• Advance education reforms that offer accountability, innovation and choice for parents. We are not interested in simply throwing more money at a system that drives us to mediocrity. We are interested in identifying creative solutions that raise student achievement, empower teachers and better prepare young Iowans to compete in a global marketplace. These ideas must be helpful to teachers – not just another bureaucratic burden.
• Create a one-stop shop for business startups using existing departments to streamline the process and encourage entrepreneurship.
• Allow hardworking Iowa taxpayers to keep more of their money. We will streamline Iowa’s income tax system and lower rates and continue to put any overpayment of tax dollars into the Taxpayer Trust Fund and return it directly to the pockets of Iowans.
This is not Washington, D.C. We do not offer ultimatums and push things off until they’re about to go over a cliff. We’re Iowans. We deal with our issues head on, and in a way that moves our state forward. We must resist any urge to kick the can any further down the road. Iowans chose a Republican House, a Democrat Senate and working with Governor Branstad, we have a real opportunity to achieve these goals.
We must not retreat from the challenges that face us – we must instead offer fundamental changes to government on behalf of the taxpayers of Iowa.
Lastly, and I mentioned this two years ago, but want to reiterate it. Later today we will be choosing the desks that will be assigned to each of us for the next two years. I mention this to make this point: while that is where we will be assigned and where we will work, these are not our desks. They belong to the 30,000 Iowans back home which we represent; they just let us sit in them. We must keep this in mind.
Now – let’s get to work.
Thank you and may God bless our work in this chamber and the great state of Iowa.