Guest Opinion
Owen: Let Iowa values chart path
By Mike Owen, Executive Director

January 28, 2019, by The Gazette, Cedar Rapids



Early in a legislative session, it can help to start from common ground. Surely all Iowans, of any political stripe, would agree we need opportunity for all — a traditional Iowa value.

From that starting point, public policy has a role to assure all individuals and our state’s future are treated with dignity against larger and more powerful forces. That is why we have workplace and environmental protections, and a safety net.

It is why we look for public investments that offer a foundation for a strong economy. There, Iowa has fallen short, and unless we recognize that — regardless of the latest flavor of political talking points — we will continue to do so.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ emphasis on “opportunity” last year and “dignity” in her Condition of the State address this year are good words. To make words a reality, the Governor could consult the people-first “Road map for Opportunity” from the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

• Assuring our children reach their potential. The baby step of a proposed 2.3 percent increase in per-pupil funding for K-12 schools is inadequate, not only for one year, but especially in the wake of a 1.7 percent average increase over the last nine years. A serious commitment to higher education would mean enough state support to lower tuition and keep Iowa universities competitive for world-class talent.

• Economic security for working Iowans. We need to raise labor standards (a minimum-wage raise is long overdue — $7.25 since 2008) and enforce them (wage theft is rampant and ignored by this administration). We need to restore bargaining rights, reverse the cruel cuts to workers’ compensation, protect our unemployment insurance system, and make it possible for hard working Iowans to balance work and family — boosting access to child care for those that want to work, and providing paid leave to those who need to devote their time to family obligations.

• Restoring a commitment to the health and well-being for all, particularly seniors and people living with disabilities. Immediate moves to reverse the failures of privatized Medicaid, and adequately funding mental health services, are critical first steps.

• Ensuring clean water and renewable energy for a healthy, sustainable Iowa. We cannot pretend current policy will reduce water pollution. Strengthening the weak Nutrient Reduction Strategy starts with adequate funding. We should embrace Iowa’s legacy of leadership in renewable and efficient energy, protecting efforts to expand solar and restore energy efficiency support for low-income Iowans.

• Cleaning up and restoring balance to the tax code. For decades, Iowa has demanded low-income Iowans to pay a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than those with the highest incomes. For decades, we have squandered public dollars on corporate tax loopholes and runaway spending on corporate tax credits. Yet, the political forces winning in Des Moines have compounded these trends, including the tax changes in 2018.

Iowa is at a critical juncture. We can take a high road to progress and shared prosperity, or go down a dead end.

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Mike Owen is executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City.

Comments: mikeowen (at) iowapolicyproject.org.