The Ottumwa Courier

January 12, 2013

Settling in at the Iowa Legislature

Area legislators say tax cuts, education, job creation will shape the debate

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The 2013 legislative session begins on Monday, and area legislators are revving up for a spring filled with discussions of tax cuts, education and mental health reform.

Gov. Terry Branstad plans to reveal his proposed budget on Tuesday. His priorities are expected to include lowering commercial property taxes and putting money toward education reform.

State Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, said she expects the governor to propose property tax cuts, among other tax cuts.

“And I’m hoping ... mental health gets settled, but I don’t know if that’s a priority of his,” she said.

State Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said the governor’s budget needs to get spending under control.

“I’m hearing some possibly pretty innovative ideas out there, and those would come out in his speech,” Klein said.

He said the first week is filled with formalities — just as a student’s first week is filled with syllabi and introductions — with legislators receiving seat assignments, hearing opening speeches and making introductions.

“It’s really not until the second week that any serious committee work is done,” he said. “We will see a number of legislative pieces start to roll out looking for co-sponsors [the first week], so there’s quite a bit of reading.”

Newcomers from southeast Iowa include state Rep. Larry Sheets, R-Moulton, and state Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa. Sheets could not be reached as of press time.

Rozenboom finished his last day as a Mahaska County supervisor Friday afternoon with five hours of budget hearings. He said orientations at the state capitol the past couple of months have helped him start building relationships.

“I suspect it will be a steep learning curve on the one hand,” Rozenboom said. “But on the other hand, I’ve had a fair amount of experience with state government in the sense that over the years I’ve been to the capitol a number of times and met with legislators, so I have a sense of how things work.”

One item Klein knows for a fact will pass this year is the budget — because legislators are legally obligated to do so.

“I’m not trying to be too smart about it, but that’s one thing I see for sure happening,” he said. “Everything else is still up in the air in a lot of ways. ... I don’t see major moves in legislation but we will get some things done and time will tell which issues will get addressed.”

Klein said he would like to see property taxes and education reform come through Des Moines, “but is it going to be both? I’d say that’s probably a tough road to haul.”

Rozenboom said he expects education and property tax “will shape the debate.”

Gaskill said her focus this session will switch to job creation.

“I’m hoping we do something to create new jobs and help people increase their incomes with good, quality jobs,” she said. “That’s one reason I got on the Ways and Means and Economic Growth Committees.”

Gaskill said her focus the last few years has been on other areas.

“But this has not been solved,” she said of job creation. “I’ve worked on city and local government, county records and getting their computer system going, state government with election machines across the state, and getting equity across the state with elections.”

Klein, 31, said he wants to revamp a bill that would propose term limits for state legislators, though he may not be the direct sponsor. He will begin his second term on Monday.

“If you’re willing to take your ego out of some of this, it’s more effective to find different sponsorship of the bill. That’s the way the building works. As a young legislator I’m still trying to learn and get to know people, so finding somebody with more experience than myself who has the same opinion structure ... they can run the bill and put their name on it. It adds to its level of credibility.

“Don’t worry about having your name attached. If the issue passes in the end, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

Rozenboom said he’s not going to start the session by introducing any bills but by building relationships.

“I don’t care what business you’re in, relationships with other people are important, and I think we need to work on that,” he said. “That means relationships with fellow Republican senators, and also Democratic senators and lobbyists.”

While Rozenboom said some legislators may think being loud and getting in others’ faces is the way to make themselves heard, he plans on taking a different approach.

“I would rather do it quietly with one-on-one relationships and by listening to all sides of an issue,” he said. “Then when I need to speak my piece, I’ll do that.”

The extra $1 billion in the state’s budget that Democrats have referred to as a surplus and Republicans prefer to call an overpayment will also be the subject of some heated debate.

“It’s dollars that taxpayers paid in that was more than they needed to put in,” Klein said. “They need to get it back one way or another.”

He said that needs to happen through tax relief.

“For us to not do tax relief ... is a disservice to the people of Iowa who are suffering even more today than they were a year ago with their payroll income tax. Seniors on fixed incomes who are working with landlords on the coming years to keep rent better ... that landlord is trying to figure out how to do that with a skyrocketing commercial property tax.”

Gaskill hopes the Legislature uses some of the $1 billion to reduce property taxes for medium and small businesses.

“Big corporations don’t need that help as much as the small businesses do,” she said. “They are the entrepreneurs that stimulate growth.”

Gaskill advised new members of the Legislature to listen, learn and ask questions.

“And enjoy yourself while you’re there,” she said. “Everyone is up there wanting to do the best they can for the state of Iowa. That’s the attitude I go in with. Listen to each other,  and we can come to some solutions.”