SESSION WON’T END UNTIL THE PEOPLE’S WORK IS FINISHED
While I hope the 2013 legislative session wraps up soon, I won’t vote to adjourn until Iowa has a balanced state budget that will help strengthen and grow our middle class.
We can do that in a fiscally responsible way because Iowa’s state budget is in good shape, thanks to sound bipartisan management. The state is expected to have a budget surplus of about $844 million on June 30, the end of the current budget year. In addition, we have $622 million in our reserve funds, the largest amount in state history.
I support these key initiatives to help strengthen our economy and create jobs:
• Expanding access to high-quality affordable health care for uninsured working Iowans (SF 296)
• Approving education reform that improves student achievement (HF 215)
• Providing reliable, responsible funding for our local schools (HF 604)
• Cutting taxes for working Iowa families to help lift them out of poverty and boost the economy (SF422)
• Assisting 73,000 Iowa small businesses by providing a state tax credit on employee health insurance costs (SF 449)
LEGISLATORS SEEK COMPROMISE TO EXPAND HEALTH CARE
The Legislature continues to work toward a compromise that will expand affordable health care to more low-income Iowans.
On April 30, the House approved Governor Branstad’s alternative to Medicaid expansion with only minor changes. In the face of bipartisan opposition, the measure passed on a narrow vote of 51-49. Even the Republican chair of the House Health & Human Services Budget expressed doubts that the federal government would approve the Governor’s plan and criticized the plan’s raid on local property taxes for mental health services.
The House and Senate approaches both focus on improving the health of Iowans and rewarding health care providers for doing so, but the alternative supported by the Governor and the House has many flaws.
Here are just a few comparisons:
• The Senate plan covers 150,000 uninsured working Iowans. The House alternative helps only 89,000.
• The Senate plan allows Iowans to access health care services in their own communities. The House alternative creates transportation barriers by using regional providers.
• The Senate plan is already paid for with federal dollars. The House alternative adds to the federal deficit and costs Iowa taxpayers an additional $157 million. It increases property taxes and takes funds away from the newly redesigned mental health system.
I am committed to expanding access to health care to hard-working Iowans in a fiscally responsible manner. I’m also listening to the Iowans who know and care most about this issue: health care providers and advocates. They’ve dedicated their lives to affordable, accessible high-quality health care, and they are united in the belief that expanding Medicaid is the right choice for Iowa.
I remain hopeful about ongoing negotiations among Republican and Democratic legislators on this important legislation. For more on how the health care plans compare, check out these comments by Senate President Pam Jochum, floor manager of SF 296 in the Senate: http://youtu.be/lO8iq9jlJzU.
ISU BASKETBALL STAR RAISES AWARENESS OF MENTAL HEALTH
The Legislature has spent three years debating mental health reform. We are close to implementing a plan that will treat every Iowan the same—no matter where they live, no matter what their disorder.
Senate File 415 invests nearly $30 million over the next year to ensure that local services do not suffer as Iowa transitions to a regional system. This is a victory, especially for Iowans living with mental illness. But more work lies ahead. We must raise awareness and acceptance of mental illness.
Former Iowa State University basketball star Royce White is doing just that. Royce was a first-round draft pick last summer for the Houston Rockets, but generalized anxiety disorder has made his transition to professional sports difficult and threatens to end his NBA career.
White visited the Senate Chamber on April 25, giving us the chance to hear his story. It’s the public story of a man with exceptional talent who also has the courage to stand up and talk about his mental health struggles in order to help others.
White’s story is the story of many Iowans—our friends, neighbors and family. While he is a professional basketball player, mental illnesses can also affect any Iowan: lawyers, nurses, mechanics and any other occupation. Nearly 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children—with no regard for race, age, religion or economic status.
White chose the Iowa Statehouse to kick off a national tour to help end the stigma of mental illness so everyone gets the support and help they need. His story is just one example of why the Legislature has worked so hard to ensure quality mental health services are available to all Iowans.
CUTTING TAXES TO GROW IOWA’S MIDDLE CLASS
The Iowa Senate has passed a package of bills that will lower taxes for Iowa citizens, employers and property owners. These initiatives will revitalize our communities, allow businesses to expand, create jobs and grow our middle class.
I hope this is the year that Iowa increases our state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 20 percent of the federal tax credit (SF422). Republicans and Democrats in the Senate overwhelmingly approved this tax cut, which is good for working families and the Iowa economy, but the House has not yet acted on in it.
The EITC cuts taxes for low-income working Iowans and helps lift them out of poverty. A boost in our state EITC would benefit 210,000 Iowans who pay the highest percentage of their income in state and local taxes, even though they are among our lowest paid workers.
These Iowans are the parents of almost 40 percent of all Iowa kids. More than half of the benefit of this tax cut will go to households with incomes below $20,000 a year—households living in poverty. When these families work their way out of poverty, we all benefit. Their kids will be much more likely to graduate from college, join our skilled workforce and help build a strong Iowa future.
In addition, if this tax cut becomes law, Iowa communities will receive a $50 million boost in economic activity. Unlike other proposed tax cuts, almost every dollar of this tax cut will be spent locally.
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