The Iowa legislature made a few final decisions on a $8.18 billion state budget plan and voted to prohibit cities, counties and schools from having mask mandates before concluding the 2021 session for the year shortly before midnight.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny said the legislature’s biggest achievement is the GOP tax plan that passed earlier this week, cutting taxes by an estimated $1 billion over eight years.
“We got that generational tax bill done. That’s a really good day for Iowa,” Whitver said during a Radio Iowa interview.
Governor Kim Reynolds is emphasizing the part of the plan that ends a county property tax levy and shifts responsibility for the mental health system to the state.
“I’m really excited about it,” Reynolds told reporters Wednesday. “It’s the right thing to do and it is the final piece to mental health reform that we’ve been working on since 2017.”
The plan also gets rid of the inheritance tax and ensures income tax cuts go into effect in 2023.
“We’re fortunate as a state that we’re in a good position that we can make investments where investments are needed and we are also able to cut taxes,” Whitver said. “There are not a lot of states in the country that can do that.”
Democrats like House Minority Leader Todd Prichard of Charles City say the session was “a disappointment” because Republicans had plenty of options, but failed to provide state assistance to Iowans suffering because of the pandemic.
“The just lack of concern for the plight of Iowans, I don’t have words for it. I’m just sad. It’s a heavy heart,” Prichard said during an online news conference Wednesday evening. “…And we’ve politicized the mask.”
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, a Democrat from Coralville, said Republicans focused on divisive issues like election law changes and abortion policy.
“Pouring gasoline on the flames of division that are alight in this country, rather than working with Democrats to try and turn the temperature down, Republicans have turned the thermostat way, way up,” Wahls told reporters.
The legislative session lasted 129 days. Intense negotiations among Republicans over the tax plan lasted for over a month, but House Speaker Pat Grassley downplays the idea there was a philosophical rift between House and Senate Republicans.
“Any time you have a bill that reduces the tax burden on Iowans, I think fundamentally as Republicans we’re going to be coming from a similar place,” Grassley said during a recent online news conference.
Grassley said in the end, the governor provided key assurances about how the state would run mental health system, so House Republicans dropped their opposition to having the state take on another social program.
Spending on the state prison system was among the legislature’s major budget decisions after two Anamosa prison employees were killed in March by two inmates attempting to escape. Whitver and Senate Republicans initially proposed a $4 million increase in the budget for prisons, but then agreed to the $20 million increase House Republicans proposed.
“I said probably a month ago we’re going to work with corrections to see what kind of investment they need to make sure that our workers are safe and we think that is a good start,” Whitver told Radio Iowa. “We don’t know if they’ll use all of that this year, but we want to make sure the money is available for them to make those investments, if needed.”
Several high-profile bills failed to pass the legislature this year, including the governor’s proposed Iowa renewable fuels standard. Last month, Reynolds indicated she’ll ask representatives of gasoline retailers and the biofuels industry to negotiate over the summer and fall and find a compromise that boosts the use of ethanol and biodiesel.