Reprinted from The Des Moines Register Jan. 5.
The new year provides an opportunity for people to chart a better course going forward. Iowa’s elected officials are no exception. Their priorities affect the lives of all residents.
This is why early each January the Des Moines Register editorial board offers suggestions for where lawmakers should focus their energies in the upcoming legislative session. We are doing this again today. The goal, as always, is to make Iowa a better place to live.
It would be remiss not to recognize the state’s current financial difficulties. One cannot honestly advocate investing in the environment or better protecting vulnerable children, for example, when the money is not there to accomplish those goals.
And the money is not there — largely because previous legislative priorities included tax cuts, corporate giveaways and a refusal to generate new revenue. Again last year, tax collections failed to grow as predicted. Iowa was forced to make mid-year cuts and dip into reserves.
Now the state’s roughly $7.2 billion budget faces a shortfall of $45 million to $90 million.
The top priority of this Legislature, which convened Monday, must be raising revenue.
Cutting taxes and reducing the size of government is not a vision for the future. It is a philosophy, and one that has devastated other Republican-controlled states like Kansas and Louisiana. Instead of economic growth, those states realized canceled college graduations, abused children sleeping in government offices, depleted trust funds and abrupt tax increases to rescue the state from total fiscal disaster.
Yet Iowa seems to be gradually following in their footsteps. In recent years, thousands of employees have been cut from the state workforce. As few as five troopers have been on duty overnight to patrol the entire state. Families are waiting weeks for a loved one’s remains due to a backlog of autopsies at the Iowa Office of the Medical Examiner. Institutions for the mentally ill have been shuttered.
If lawmakers refuse to raise revenue, things will only get worse. Taxes are not evil. They are an investment in the quality of our daily lives and future. Making that investment requires making revenue a priority.