I am optimistic, positive and hopeful by nature. So as we convene the 2010 legislative session Monday, I'll bring that outlook, in spite of it being described as the most challenging legislative session since the Great Depression.
True, we have a depressed national economy exacerbated by historic flooding in eastern Iowa, which means we have an economy and an infrastructure to rebuild.
State revenues are down in every category. But state government spending is less this than three years ago, and we have $419 million in our ''rainy day'' accounts. Many say the rainy day has arrived. (See graph at right.)
Challenges? Yes we have 'em!
But the news is not all doom and gloom. In fact, there is no other state where I would rather serve than right here in Iowa as your voice and advocate in your Capitol. While we must recognize that these are tough times for Iowans, our economic blueprint has placed Iowa ahead of the nation. There are many bright spots:
These accomplishments are worth noting and certainly are measurements for which Iowans can be justifiably proud.
In any case, there simply is no way to avoid the pain of cutbacks we must make this year. After all, more than 40 percent of the budget is spent on local schools. Another 13 percent goes to community colleges and public universities. Health care and human services account for almost 22 percent of the state budget, and prisons and law enforcement is almost 12 percent of the budget. (See chart at right.)
Our focus for this session will be the budget for Fiscal Year 2011. There are no easy answers. It will be tough for Iowans and particularly painful - personally, politically and professionally - for me, as I will have to pit some of my passions and priorities against each other.
For example, I am a strong and steadfast supporter of the people who protect us - the State Patrol, correctional officers, child protective services workers and the National Guard.
I have also worked hard to complete a four-lane Highway 20 from Dubuque to Sioux City and co-sponsored the Access Iowa Highway legislation that directs the Department of Transportation to complete four-lane highways between cities of 20,000 or more first. You may interpret that as a Fort Dodge-Sioux City mandate.
The governor and others have suggested moving $50 million from the Road Use Fund - RUF - to pay for the Iowa State Patrol. While an argument can be made that highway safety, as well as construction and maintenance, is a legitimate use of the RUF. However, I am concerned that such a transfer would delay construction. It would also harm counties and cities that receive about 40 percent of the RUF money.
In balancing the budget next year, everything should be on the table except increasing taxes. This should include closer scrutiny of tax expenditures and loopholes, as well as increased transparency.
We must assure that tax incentives are not abused and that they're really doing what the Legislature intended. For example, the excesses and greed experienced with the well-intentioned, but apparently poorly-managed, film tax credits needs to be closely monitored. We need to make sure that tax credits to companies promising to create jobs actually create those jobs. I favor investing in our future, but there must be a demonstrative return on our investments.
Here is what I am committed to accomplishing fiscally during the 2010 legislative session:
1. Create transparency and accountability by using an Internet database of all tax expenditures and economic development incentives with the ability to search by company and program.
2. Place spending caps on all uncapped tax expenditure programs.
3. Sunset all tax expenditure and economic incentive programs every three years.
4. Sunset newly created programs and agencies. Sometimes agencies seem to get a life of their own and outlive the very reason they were created.
5. Establish a new joint appropriation subcommittee to annually review and evaluate the effectiveness of tax expenditures, job creation incentives, tax increment financing and all other tax exemptions.
6. Establish an annual spending target for these taxes and incentives.
Obviously the focus during the shortened 80-day legislative session (instead of the authorized 100-day session) will be keeping our fiscal house in order. I believe you will see the Legislature concentrating on the major challenges confronting us and resolving what most of us believe are the major priorities.
I believe Iowa has a bright future. As we emerge from the national recession, we are building a solid foundation for a stronger Iowa. Besides putting Iowans back to work, we are upgrading our infrastructure and investing in the renewable energy economy.
We are putting people back to work by helping them upgrade their skills to get high-tech jobs in today's global economy.
We will not give up on our future. Now more than ever it's essential that every Iowa child gets a quality education. We will make sure that children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and will strengthen K-12 education across Iowa. We cannot afford to let a community college education become unaffordable for Iowans. Education is our seed corn for tomorrow's crops.
Finally, we must all work together. Republicans and Democrats - representatives and senators and the Governor - public servants and public citizens - must all unite to resolve today's issues so that Iowa does indeed have that bright future we all want ... the future Iowans deserve.
Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. He chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee and is vice chair of the Transportation Committee and the Local Government Committee. A former teacher and Fort Dodge school board member, Beall serves on the Education Committee and is a commissioner on the Education Commission of the States. He is a member of the Economic Growth Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Appropriations Subcommittee. He is vice chair of the International Relations Committee. He and his wife Jo Ann have three children and 10 grandchildren. Beall invites his constituents, to share their views with him. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His telephone number at the Capitol is 281-3371. His home telephone number is 573-7889.