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The first eight weeks of the legislative session were dominated by committee and sub-committee meetings, with very little floor debate or voting. Of course that’s pretty normal procedure anyway, but the process was delayed this year because Senator Tom Courtney (D – Burlington) had open heart surgery about three weeks ago. We all hope and pray that he has a speedy and complete recovery. There is a constitutional requirement that 26 votes are needed to pass legislation out of the Senate, and since the Democrat caucus only has 25 members until Sen. Courtney returns, the Majority Leader has been unwilling to allow any floor action, even on legislation that was considered bi-partisan. This last week however we did begin the actual process of passing bills, all of which were non-controversial. The Iowa Code has around 9000 pages, and there is always a lot of “code cleanup” work that needs to be done, and we got quite a bit of that out of the way this week.
We still have significant work to do on the budget, on Medicaid expansion, education and tax reform. Sen. Courtney will probably return next week, at least on a limited basis, and perhaps we’ll start to pick up the pace with floor debate and action.
Arbitration Decision Leaves Taxpayers on the Hook
Last week, after several months of negotiation, an arbiter decided on a two-year contract for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). AFSCME is Iowa’s largest union, representing 20,000 employees under this contract. As I understand it, the Governor held the line on salary increases while employees will still get their scheduled step increases. But government workers will continue to receive free healthcare while the majority of Iowans pay for their medical coverage.
The arbiter’s decision represents a $94 million cost savings to the state of Iowa, which has been working to find ways to save money and spend wisely. This significant saving is a step in the right direction from the previous contract negotiated by Governor Chet Culver who was much more generous with the union. While this savings is important, the arbiter’s decision still allows state employees a free benefit at the expense of the Iowa taxpayer who must pay for their own healthcare coverage.
Iowa is one of only six states in the country where the majority of state employees pay nothing toward their health insurance. In contrast, families on the Hawk-I plan designed to provide insurance for families making just above the federal poverty level, pay $40 a month for their insurance. Iowa state employees need to lead by example and pay a portion of their health care costs. It is the right thing to do when the state and country continue to debate health insurance at a time when health care costs continue to rise.
To that end, Senate Republicans recently offered SF 137, a bill requiring members of the General Assembly to pay 20% of their health care premiums. We feel this is an appropriate place to start, by setting the example moving forward. We hope that Majority Democrats will take up the measure in the near future; however, it is not likely. We will continue to promote the responsibility for Iowans employed by the state to pay a portion of their health care premiums.
Thinking Globally Keeps Iowa Competitive
This week, the Iowa Economic Development Authority released a report indicating Iowa exports of manufactured and value-added agricultural goods have increased almost 10 percent between 2011 and 2012. In comparison, overall exports for the entire United States grew by only 4.46 percent in 2012. Iowa companies are producing global products while having a positive impact on the state and local economy. We must continue to think globally as well as locally to ensure that Iowa continues to have a health export economy.
Iowa exported over $14.6 billion in goods to countries around the world in 2012, compared to $13.3 billion of exports in 2011. Last year the top five countries purchasing Iowa exports were Canada, Mexico, Japan, China and Germany. Of these exports, machinery accounted for $1.64 billion, non-railway vehicles accounted for $1.25 billion, meat accounted for $790 million, and cereals accounted for $690 million of the total export market.
More than 2,500 companies in Iowa export goods and as a result are creating jobs and contributing to their local economy. Eighty-four percent of Iowa exporters are considered small- to-medium-sized companies. Based on 2012’s export statistics, Iowa exporters support approximately 73,000 jobs. These jobs greatly contribute to local economies and help produce a standard quality of life that Iowans have come to expect.
As we continue to grow the economy, provide quality jobs, and encourage businesses to plant roots in Iowa soil, we must remember to think globally. Iowans must educate our students to be prepared for the global marketplace and enable businesses to work competitively in a large-scale atmosphere.
For those of you in the Oskaloosa area I look forward to seeing you again on March 23 for Eggs and Issues at Smokey Row. It’s always a great opportunity to interact with your area elected officials.
Senator Ken Rozenboom
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