The IFL would like to specifically note the passing this year of Don Rowen, who served as Executive Vice President and lobbyist for the Iowa Federation of Labor for many years. Don always fought the good fight for workers at the capitol, and he will be missed by all of the labor community.
It is again hard to draw many positives coming out of the 2016 legislative session. Many of the same issues that legislators have struggled with in previous years were themes again this year. Many issues were not dealt with, and in future years the legislature will need to find common ground.
While school funding did get settled in a much timelier manner, again this year the state has underfunded our schools. For the 2016-2017 academic school year, the House and Senate settled on a 2.25% increase. The Republican controlled house wanted 2%, and the Democratic controlled Senate offered a 4% increase. The IFL and our allies’ position was 6%, higher than what the Senate was offering because we believe that years of underfunding education has put our schools far behind where they need to be. Higher education didn’t fare well either, as it received less funding than needed and will likely worsen the student debt crisis as tuition will likely continue to increase.
Again, the legislature passed tax cuts at a time we’re being told the state doesn’t have enough money for all kinds of priorities. By passing a bill that allows farmers and businesses to write off up to $500,000 in certain purchases, it is estimated that the state will lose out on $96 million in the current year. Additionally, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow $10 million in state tax credits per year to biochemical makers. Over the course of ten years, state revenue officials believe the credits will cost the state $62.5 million, but as this is based on production it is hard to estimate the true cost.
While the Governor pushed forward with privatizing our state’s Medicaid system without consulting the Iowa Legislature, the Senate and House Democrats pushed hard for oversight of the program. Senate Democrats passed legislation that would have terminated the contracts of the new private Medicaid providers, however that legislation was not taken up by the house. On the last day of the session, the House and Senate found common ground on oversight provisions, including an additional long term care ombudsman with expanded oversight abilities, as well as data reporting to ensure that these “Managed Care Organizations” are meeting the outcomes that they have promised.
The Governor’s water quality plan did not advance, which is a good thing as it would be taking money that voters intended to go towards school infrastructure and diverting it for a different purpose. A flawed House version did not pass either, nor did Senate proposals. A water quality solution is important, and local entities such as Des Moines Water Works are picking up the tab for farming practices going on in other parts of the state. This is a topic that is sure to continue as an issue in the fall elections as well as next legislative session.
Eminent domain reform regarding transmission lines finally reached a compromise at the last hour of session. A time limit from the initial application to the Iowa Utilities Board for a transmission line entity to completion was established (as many states do have), but opponents of the “Clean Line” project failed to retroactively stop the project and also failed to restrict the definition of “public use” to mean only those persons living in the state, which also would have stopped the project and would have been constitutionally questionable under the “commerce clause.”
State workers themselves again find themselves under the threat of layoffs, most notably at the DOT. The Iowa House strongly opposed a $9.7 million salary request, which would have covered both collective bargaining increases as well as other salaries in the department. Instead the House agreed to $4.85 million, which may still result in layoffs.
NO MAJOR LABOR LAW REFORM
Disappointingly this year there was no action on minimum wage, no action on wage theft, no action on limiting payroll card abuse, no action on ban the box, and scant attention paid to labor issues in general outside of the Senate Labor Committee. Even establishing a study on equal pay was too far for House Republicans to go to address pay disparities between men and women. While some of these issues had hearings in the Senate, there was no discussion of these issues by the House. Many of the issues that labor dealt with came down to the wire in appropriations bills. The Governor can line item veto appropriations bills, like he did last year with additional school aid money. Our past experience with this Governor and line item vetoes is to not trust him, however until these decisions are made we will have to take a wait and see approach.
KEEP FIGHTING BACK
With the gridlock at the state and federal level on these issues, we applaud Johnson, Linn, Polk, Lee, and any county that has raised or is looking at raising their county minimum wage. It will take local actions, campaigns, and local union members and our allies fighting these fights to grab the attention of the legislature. We’re proud of what union members are doing across this state – because if the state legislature is unable or unwilling to stand up for workers, we know we can count on you to.