(Photo by Michael Fischer)
When asked for their opinions on utilizing tax credits and a proposed 40 percent rollback of commercial property tax to improve the economy and create jobs, the two did not differ much.
"We have to have a multifaceted approach," Bomgaars, a Spencer Democrat, said. "There is widespread agreement that the commercial property tax needs to be lowered. ... I favor that (40 percent cut) with a few conditions. It can't put it on the backs of residential property taxpayers and it can't put the burden on cities and counties."
"Steve's right," Hess responded after expressing full support for a 40 percent commercial property tax rollback over five years. "This is a $602 million cut. It was done four years ago for machinery and equipment. ... Tax credits are not always stable."
Hess noted she would like to see comprehensive tax reform, which could include a fuel tax increase.
"The gas tax is not going to be on the table unless part of overall tax reform," the Spencer Republican said. She added that transportation dollars need to be spent in northwest Iowa, "not just inside the golden circle of Des Moines."
Drawing on his experience as a Spencer city councilman, Bomgaars said he would listen to both sides of the issue as the council has done when considering rate increases. He went a step further than Hess, advocating for four-lane extensions of U.S. Highways 71 and 4 from U.S. Highway 20 to Spencer and Emmetsburg, respectively.
When asked about an issue on which they may buck their party, Bomgaars shared his support for Iowa's "right to work" status, while Hess spoke of making state employees' salaries commensurate with comparable private sector salaries.
"Unions are an integral part of the process," said Bomgaars, a member of the Iowa State Education Association. "Right to work says a person does not have to join a union to be employed. It makes the union make the case.
"Some say state employees are paid less because of the benefits they receive," Hess said. "That's incorrect. Just today, a Des Moines Register article showed they are paid 17.9 percent more."
Hess targeted past "creative budgeting" when asked about the state's budget surplus and requirement to spend no more than 99 percent of revenue.
"We're paying $55 million a year for 20 years because of overspending," Hess said, referencing former Gov. Chet Culver's I-JOBS plan.
She also suggested "the best way to spend it is turn it back to taxpayers."
While Bomgaars said the actual surplus number is unknown, "We need to be prudent." He continued that the legislature should look at restoring funding for community colleges, regents universities and other entities that have been cut in recent years.
Both Bomgaars and Hess expressed a desire for Iowa to return to its former top-five status in education, emphasizing the STEM initiative.
"Building those relationships between businesses and schools is going to create jobs," Bomgaars said, calling Spencer a model for the state.
"We need to make sure our schools are funded and it's stable," Hess said. "In 2008, the legislature promised 4 percent allowable growth. It wasn't fully funded, then Gov. Culver cut it by another 10 percent. Republicans got a lot of flack for 0 percent allowable growth the next year, but education was funded $240 million more than in 2008."
Hess also advocated for an internship program that would pair unemployed individuals with businesses looking for workers.
Currently, the Health and Human Services Budget is larger than the Education Budget, and the candidates were asked how they would address that budget to assist counties with funding for mental health and aging agencies.
"The state needs to make sure the cost of mental health doesn't fall back on property tax payers," Hess said.
"The mental health reorganization may be a step in the right direction, but counties around here are a little bit concerned. They think they're already providing good services," Bomgaars added.
Hess contended that marketing the quality of life in rural areas would bring more young professionals to provide such services.
The two candidates demonstrated their differences when asked whether or not they were voting for retention of Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, with Bomgaars saying yes and Hess saying no.
Hess also said she has earned endorsements from anti-abortion groups because of her stance against abortion, which includes opposition to Planned Parenthood funding.
"I personally oppose abortion," Bomgaars said, calling it "the most difficult choice any woman would ever have to face."
While he is opposed to using state funds for abortions at Planned Parenthood locations, he is not against funding other services provided by the organization.
"When we fund some services, it frees up more money for abortions," Hess countered.
They also addressed the possibility of requiring identification to vote in Iowa.
"We need to be in the business of enhancing the vote, not restricting the vote," Bomgaars said. "If we vote on it, we need to see how it would affect voters."
He gave the example of his 90-year-old mother-in-law who has been voting for nearly 70 years but does not have an ID.
"There is a provision for cases like that," Hess said while voicing her support for such a requirement.
The debate ended on a positive note, as each candidate was asked what they admired about the other.
"I admire Megan's ambition," Bomgaars said succinctly.
"I've been impressed by your drive," Hess responded.