The Legislative Puzzle
Local legislators ready for 85th General Assembly
Both Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) and newly-elected Rep. Megan Hess (R-Spencer) will be joining legislators from across the state in Des Moines on Monday to begin working for the people as part of the 85th General Assembly.
"It's going to be back to basics for the Iowa legislature," Johnson said, looking at the coming session. "By that I mean taxes and spending."
Johnson, Senate Assistant Minority Leader in the Iowa Senate, returns as top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and will continue to serve on the Appropriations, Education and Human Resource committees. He will also be serving as ranking member on the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Subcommitee.
With a projected ending balance of $800 million, Johnson suggested the "available" dollars will be the focal point of the legislative period.
"Everything is going to gravitate around how that money is spent and what we're going to do about Iowa's taxes. ... It's a matter of setting priorities on how to spend that money," the District 3 Senator said.
Johnson refused to refer to the pooling $800 million as a surplus, instead insisting that it is not.
"I don't like to call it a surplus. It really isn't a surplus.
Right now, we already have $350 million built in increases in next year's budget. The governor is proposing raising teacher compensation. If it passes the legislature, that will probably be phased in over three years. That's another $150 million. That's $500 million altogether," Johnson cautioned
The way Senate Republicans are looking at it, according to Johnson, the legislature will have $200 million of discretionary income to spend.
"I believe we, as elected representatives, have been sent to Des Moines and have to recognize that this is one-time money. Senate Republicans are not willing to start any new programs with this money that are going to go on for years and years," Johnson said.
The Senator claimed the "closely divided" Chamber is comprised of 50 elected officials, each with his own way to use available dollars.
"That's the big picture. We're going to be talking about taxes and spending. And education is going to come into play when we talk about spending," Johnson said.
Hess, who will be representing Iowa House District 2 as a first-term representative, said there will be plenty on the table for House officials to focus on.
She will serve on the Education, Environmental Protection and Human Resources committees; participate as the vice chair on the Judiciary Committee; and sit on the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee.
"Every issue is important," the freshman representative said. "That being said, the issues that will likely see the most attention this session are comprehensive tax reform and education reform."
She continued, "Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds have set four goals for their administration over the next five years: 200,000 new jobs for Iowans, a 15 percent reduction in the cost of government, a 25 percent increase in family incomes and to again have the nation's best schools."
But with the House and Senate split, what are the chances of seeing the administrative goals and other programs move forward?
"There is going to have to be bi-partisan agreement," Hess said. "Republicans lead the House and the Democrats lead the Senate. To get a bill to the Governor's desk, both sides are going to have to come together. I look forward to representing House District 2 while working with members of the House and Senate to pass policy that is in the best interest of Iowa."
"People are already talking about a deadlocked legislature, and that's not a good way to start out a session. We're just going to need to get leaders to come to some sort of agreement," Johnson agreed. "There's always going to be some tension between the legislature and the governor's office. And that's good."
The Senator noted that with a limited amount of money to spend, it's a matter of deciding how to split up the pot.
"Health care - and I'm using a large umbrella that includes the mental health care redesign - will be discussed," Johnson said, pointing to areas outside of education which will need crucial financial consideration.
"ObamaCare is here," Johnson said. "It's going to have an impact and I don't believe its a good one here. It's going to be very costly to tax payers and consumers if it's fully implemented."
Johnson continued, "I'm pleased Gov. Branstad has put the brakes on some of this and maintained some sense of state's rights."
Personally, Johnson acknowledged a pair of other departments he believes could benefit from some additional dollars.
"There's going to be other issues come up. We've got to devote more funding to the Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources to move ahead on conservation and working with people to come into compliance with our environmental regulations," Johnson said. "And there's always going to be a surprise somewhere along the way. Something nobody expected."