Former student, teacher vie for Iowa House seat
Iowa House District 2 candidates Steve Bomgaars, D-Spencer, and Megan Hess, R-Spencer, will debate at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Spencer City Hall council chambers. The event is slated for one hour. Doors will open at 6 p.m.
Two Spencer residents are vying for the newly created Iowa House District 2 seat that includes all of Clay and Palo Alto counties and southern Dickinson County.
Steve Bomgaars, 59, has taught government and history at Spencer High School for 32 years and has served on Spencer City Council since 2004. He and wife Marti have two children and two grandchildren.
Megan Hess, 26, is a graduate of Spencer High School, Drake University and William Mitchell College of Law. She currently works for a local law office after working five years in the Iowa Legislature and two years in the Minnesota Legislature.
Both candidates answered the following questions for The Daily Reporter.
Why do you believe you are the best candidate for District 2 of the Iowa House and what have you done that qualifies you to represent the district?
Bomgaars: I believe I would bring a variety of experiences to the position of state representative. I have the life experience of being a husband, father, grandfather, homeowner and property tax payer. I understand the concerns of working families trying to save for their kids' college education - saving for retirement - and making the family budget work from month to month. I want my grandkids, and the two generations of students I have taught, to have the same opportunities that Marti and I had growing up in Northwest Iowa - solid communities with good neighborhoods and quality schools and a chance to have a good paying job in this state.
I believe that my experience as a teacher and coach for over 35 years has given me the opportunity to see first-hand how education and economic development are linked together. We need to have world-class schools to compete in an ever changing global economy. I have seen how building partnerships between our schools, other public entities and business will produce the skilled workforce that Iowa can depend upon into the future.
In addition, I believe my work as a city councilman since 2004 has given me the experience working with people with divergent viewpoints - finding common ground and moving the city forward. I have learned the importance of communicating with constituents about their concerns. I have learned to deal with the city budget - work together with city staff and department heads to put together a budget that meets the needs of the citizens while keeping a diligent eye on the tax asking.
Hess: I have been knocking on doors for 15 months. I have been meeting with the people of House District 2 at breakfasts, coffees, and forums. I am here to listen to the constituents and have made it clear I am accessible and ready to learn and listen.
Coupled with my knowledge of the issues of the district, I have the actual experience to be an effective representative for Northwest Iowa. I've worked in the legislatures of two states for over seven years.
The reason I chose to go to Drake University was because I was offered a job in the legislature. I served as a page my senior year of high school and was able to gain experience in government outside of the classroom. It was because of that experience that I was offered the job to work for a state representative as a legislative clerk. I worked for him for the next four years through college. When I went to law school I worked in the Minnesota Legislature.
Knowing the people of the legislature is a huge asset for any freshman legislator. I understand the various personalities and goals of the members of the House and Senate. Many of them will likely be re-elected this year and that knowledge would give me a significant head start in getting legislation passed for northwest Iowa - because I know how to work with and communicate with the members.
It is the actual experience that sets me apart from my opponent.
How would you work to continue providing quality services to the district and the state while also balancing the budget?
Bomgaars: Iowa is constitutionally required to balance the budget every year and required by statute to spend 99 percent of revenues. As a result of budget stewardship and an improving state economy, the state now has a budget surplus of over $1 billion while fully funding our rainy day and economic emergency funds according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Bureau.
We must continue to operate the state in an economical and efficient manner while investing in economic development and education systems to provide Iowans with the skills needed to take advantage of our economic opportunities.
Hess: First, we need to guarantee that the budget will be balanced. I support putting the 99 percent spending limit into the Constitution so taxpayers will have permanent protection against excessive state spending. Unfortunately, laws can be easily repealed or temporarily suspended to allow spending beyond our revenue.
Also, we need to require a 60 percent majority vote in the Iowa House and Senate, as well as the governor's signature, to authorize state borrowing. When the Democrats were in control of the House, Senate and Governor's office, our state was spending $1.18 for every $1 the state took in. That is unsustainable. Gov. Culver's IJOBS borrowing scheme is costing Iowa taxpayers $55 million a year and will continue to do so for the next 20 years. With Republicans in control, our state spends 96 cents for every $1 taken in.
Secondly, we need to find efficiencies in state government. In knocking on doors and attending forums I have heard from any concerned Iowans of duplicative services and antiquated technology that is slowing access to services.
If cuts need to be made, in what three areas would you cut and what programs, if any, need more dollars?
Bomgaars: With a $1 billion surplus it is still imperative that state government operate efficiently and effectively for the citizens of the state. If we find areas that are operating inefficiently and ineffectively it is our duty as legislators to take necessary action.
The state has emerged from the recession of 2008 better than most of our neighboring states. That being said, there have been some areas of the budget that were forced to take cuts the past few years.
One area in particular is funding for our community colleges. Iowa has one of the highest tuition rates and debt loads for community college students of any state in the country. We know that investing in community colleges helps our economic development by giving our students the training they need for skilled jobs within our communities. Community college students tend to stay in the state after graduation.
Our community colleges also provide worker retraining for displaced workers and offer liberal arts students an opportunity to live, work close to home while pursuing a degree. I think Iowa education at all levels can partner with the private sector to strengthen curriculum, opportunities and resources and derive the most of our public investment.
1. Ensure state employees pay is commensurate with that of the private sector. We need to require all state employees to pay a portion of their health insurance. Over 80 percent of all state employees pay nothing for their health insurance, which is out of step with the vast majority of Iowa taxpayers
2. We need to utilize technology. I recently searched for a form by a government agency. Rather than put the form online, the agency noted their refusal to put the form online, for no particular reason. That form had to be snail-mailed - and could only be mailed in a packet of 50 forms. This is just one example of where our government needs to be spending its dollars smarter - put the form online. It's that simple. It's easier for people to access the information they need and is also a way to save money on printing, shipping and handling of excess forms.
3. Reform the last in, first out program. State employees who are last to be hired on, are the first ones laid off if layoffs are necessary. This needs to change. Just because someone has been in a position longer does not make him or her a better employee. Eliminating this process would ensure we have the best workers in their jobs and we would save money because longer-serving employees would also be laid off, not just the lowest paid, last in employees.
At the end of the day, while budget cuts may be the easiest way to control the budget, it's not the best way to control the budget. I have based my campaign on smaller government and smarter spending. We need to spend our dollars smarter to ensure for a more stable Iowa. It doesn't have to be about cuts - but stretching our dollars.
In saying that, our budget currently has a surplus. However, there is no shortage of people in line for those extra dollars. We need to continue to be fiscally responsible to ensure we do not spend more than we take in and that our state's budget is stable.
What is the best way to incentivize job creation in the district and state?
Bomgaars: I believe it is a multifaceted approach. Ensuring our k-12, community colleges and regents have the resources and flexibility to provide Iowans with education and training needed for the economy. We must also have a tax and regulatory system that is fair and incentivizes productive investments. Iowa has great natural resources and infrastructures in agriculture and a growing market for our products. We need state policies and investments that take full advantage of our role in the world economy.
Hess: Gov. Terry Branstad set a goal to create 200,000 new jobs in the state and we need to carry our weight in getting that done.
First, we need good education for our students and an education that prepares them for a career. We need to expand and promote the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative in Iowa by committing to legislation that increases opportunities and education in STEM-related fields.
In talking to many business owners in the area, there are jobs available, they just cannot find people to fill them - particularly in the area of welding. So the private sector and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have joined together to create a partnership between high schools and business to encourage careers in STEM areas where there is a shortage of workers.
Also, we need to utilize our investment into our community colleges. Community colleges help keep tuition affordable and provide the trained workforce Iowa needs to attract and maintain job creators. In saying that, this past year we had a record investment in k-12 and community colleges. The investment was $11 million more than last highest year.
Secondly, we need to encourage a stable and predictable business climate that provides certainty for job creators to begin investing and hiring. I have talked with business owners who have two sets of plans - and the chosen plan will be based on the outcome of the election. Business owners should not have to worry about how an election will change the way in which they do business.
We need a stable and predictable business climate. To create stability, we need balanced budgets and a two-year state budget. Biennial budgeting results in slower spending growth and provides stability and predictability for those taxpayers paying the bill and for those receiving the services too.
While knocking on doors, a frequent concern is of unemployment benefits. One idea I have to get people back to work is to incentivize businesses to take a person off of unemployment and onto their payroll. When a business hires a person off of unemployment, the state would pay a portion of that persons wages for a set period of time. This weans the person off unemployment and onto the payroll of a business. This would decrease the amount of unemployment benefits paid out, because rather than paying 100 percent of a person's unemployment we would be paying a lot less - and we would be cutting the amount of time a person is on unemployment because they are back to work.
This does not create a new program - rather, it uses a program that is already in place (unemployment benefits) and makes it more efficient. Lt. Gov. Reynolds proposed a similar program - an apprenticeship program. Her proposal is that while a person is on unemployment she/he works for a business for six months while developing new skills and receiving training. After six months, the business would be incentivized to hire the person on because they are already trained and experienced in the business.
What should be done to reform the state's tax structure?
Bomgaars: Any reform efforts to the state's tax structure should have two core principles: 1) it should be fair and 2) it should encourage productive work and investment. There is general agreement in state government that the commercial property tax should be reduced.
I agree with this in principle but any reduction in the commercial property tax rate should not be at the expense of residential property tax payers and must not hurt those entities that are dependent to one degree or another on property taxes for their budgets, i.e. cities, counties, schools and community colleges.
Hess: Iowa needs a comprehensive property tax reform that provides tax relief to all classes (residential, commercial, agricultural, industrial) of property. While doing this, there must not be a shift of tax burden between classes of property. Iowa's commercial property tax rate is the third highest in the nation.
I would propose rolling back our commercial values by 40 percent over five years, making our rates more competitive with surrounding states. This results in a $602 million property tax cut for job creators. The cities and counties are backfilled by the state to allow them to continue to meet their service requirements.
This has been done before when the tax on machinery and equipment was removed. This was also done over five years to allow local governments to prepare. State government will pick up a larger share of education funding and as they do that, it will hold the education system harmless and result in a property tax reduction for all classes of property.
This comprehensive reform must benefit all taxpayers and not use gimmicks like tax credits. It must be a system that taxpayers can count on year after year to make decisions.
Iowa has the highest corporate tax rate in the nation at 12 percent. The highest rate for individuals is 8.98 percent. We should be looking at those rates to bring them more in line with our neighboring states and have our revenues more closely match our expenditures.