The Iowa General Assembly convenes its 2018 session today, with Republicans who control the legislative and executive branches of state government promising to cut state income taxes.
But GOP leaders in the legislature and Republican Governor Kim Reynolds aren’t yet revealing how big the tax cut package may be.
“We want to do everything we can to streamlin the process, to make it simpler, to reduce and, really, to help families keep more of their hard-earned money,” Reynolds said late last week during a forum organized by the Associated Press.
The last major reduction in Iowa income taxes happened in 1997. Lawmakers approved a 10-percent across-the-board cut back then. Without changes now, state officials estimate Iowans will pay about $250 million more in state income taxes over the next three years. because of the state income tax deduction for federal taxes.
“That would be detrimental to our growth and that’s not something that we want to do,” Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock said.
Dix reducing income tax rates is his priority. Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines said legislators should focus on job growth and helping Iowans improve their work skills.
“When we continue to only talk about budget cuts and tax cuts, that sets Iowa on the wrong course,” Petersen said.
There are a host of other issues likely to pop up for debate in the Iowa legislature, like addressing the opioid crisis and providing more money for water quality projects. Improving the state’s mental health care system is another priority — for both parties.
“We’ve talked a lot about working together on several topics and I think this is an opportunity to show Iowans that unlike Washington, D.C., at times, we can work together and get things done,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake, the legislature’s top Republican.
Upmeyer will slam a ceremonial gavel on the lectern at 10 a.m. this morning to mark the official start of the 2018 legislative session. Senate President Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, will engage in the same formality in the Iowa Senate.
Whitver said last week that Republicans began working on tax cut proposals 14 months ago, right after the 2016 election, but the federal tax cuts enacted just last month forced Republicans in the state legislature to recalculate.
“We’re kind of going back to the drawing board, but we have a pretty good idea of where we want to go,” Whitver said.
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown said last Thursday that any tax proposal needs to be fair and simple for all Iowans and must provide relief for the middle class.
“I do think that it’s time for the legislature to begin working together and to get back to the basics,” Smith said. “We need to be making life better for Iowans, not making life more difficult.”
Governor Reynolds has said she hopes the first bill lawmakers pass is one that sets up a new, long-term funding source for water quality projects. Republicans in the House and the Senate didn’t agree on the same approach on the issue last year and there’s no indication, yet, how the issue may be resolved.
There’s one vacancy in the Iowa House right now, so 149 legislators are expected to be in Des Moines for the start of their 2018 session. State Representative Jim Carlin won a special election in the Sioux City and Le Mars area last month and was sworn in as a state senator. The special eleciton for Carlin’s former House seat is scheduled for Tuesday, January 16.