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State budget work began this Wednesday in the Iowa Senate. As this process gets underway, Senate Republicans are united in protecting Iowa taxpayers. Last year I joined my fellow Senate Republicans in voting against every budget proposal offered by our counterparts in the Senate majority. I did that for a fundamental reason: I do not support excessive government spending at the expense of Iowa taxpayers. Responsible Iowa families know they must not outspend their income; elected officials should be held to the same standard.
Only a few years ago, under a different governor’s administration, and at a time when fiscal conservatives did not control either the Iowa House or the Iowa Senate, we experienced consecutive annual spending increases of 11 percent and 17 percent. As a result of this excessive spending, Iowans were saddled with a $900 million budget deficit. And that shortfall resulted in a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut and hundreds of millions in borrowing.
Under Governor Terry Branstad’s leadership, and with conservative fiscal discipline in the House and Senate, Iowa has made great strides down the road to prosperity. The budget deficit is gone due to common sense budgeting practices, and our “rainy day funds” are full. Senate Republicans believe in spending less than the state receives in revenues, not using one-time money for on-going expenses and not intentionally underfunding entitlement programs to balance the state budget. Senate Republicans will once again toe the line on spending again this legislative session.
As we start our budget discussions, we will address some key priorities this year such as making sure resources are available to help reduce student debt, eliminating the income tax on military pensions and expanding high-speed internet connectivity throughout the state. We also must ensure prior commitments to education reform, property tax relief and health care are met.
More than a dozen Iowa veterans left the Iowa Statehouse pleased Wednesday morning after the Senate Ways & Means subcommittee cast its support for Senate File 303, which exempts state income tax on military retirement pay. The legislation appears to have bi-partisan support as all lawmakers understand the importance of standing by our veterans.
Nearly twenty six states, including all neighboring states, have a similar law in place. It is a solid piece of legislation for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it honors our veterans who proudly served our great nation. Exempting military pensions from state income taxes is also helpful in recruiting veterans to Iowa, which in turn enhances economic development and expands Iowa’s skilled workforce.
Eliminating the income tax on military pensions is also a good first step at exploring all components of income tax reform, which benefits all Iowans. I support SF 303, and all of the components of the Home Base Iowa Act, which properly demonstrates our sincere appreciation to our veterans and helps build our workforce.
As a member of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, and as the ranking member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Sub-committee, I am acutely aware of the threat to the ash tree population in our state. The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has been positively identified in five Iowa counties, and twenty five eastern Iowa counties are currently under quarantine in an effort to slow down the spread of this pest. The quarantine forbids the transport of firewood or any other parts of the ash tree to un-quarantined parts of the state. At present the only part of Senate District 40 that is under quarantine is Wapello county because of its proximity to Jefferson county, where EAB has been discovered recently.
Iowa is the home to more than 52 million ash trees, and it is expected that nearly that entire population of trees will be devastated in the next few years. There is no economically feasible way to control this pest, and the cost to municipalities for the removal of dead ash trees will be significant. We will continue to monitor this growing problem, and try to find ways for the state to minimize the cost to Iowans.
As always, please contact me if you have questions or concerns about state government. And remember to join us at Smokey Row in Oskaloosa at 8:30 this Saturday morning, January 25. Or join me with other area legislators at the Bridgeview Center in Ottumwa next Saturday morning, February 1, at 9:30.
Senator Ken Rozenboom
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