Local Quad-City lawmakers found common ground, but were widely divided along party lines on how to help businesses struggling with labor shortages.
The Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce hosted state legislators in the region at a forum Friday morning at the Blackhawk Hotel to provide updates on a variety of policy issues important to businesses in the region.
Speakers included Iowa Sens. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire; Roby Smith, R-Davenport; and Jim Lykam, D-Davenport; Iowa Representative Monica Kurth, D-Davenport; and Illinois Reps. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island, and Tony McCombie, R-Savanna.
“To stay competitive, Quad-Cities must not only grow our population, but create an educated and skilled workforce that attracts new businesses and ensures that current employers have the talent pool they need to succeed” , said Rhonda Ludwig, director of government affairs at the Chamber of Quadriples. “A public policy that fully funds education and job training programs and helps employees find affordable housing and child care will create a well-equipped workforce for our region and our employers.”
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On Thursday, Iowa House Republicans voted to approve a 2.5% increase in education funding per student, providing more than $170 million in additional aid to local school districts.
This would equate to an additional $186 per student for the next fiscal year, bringing the per student assistance to $7,413 for each student.
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Lawmakers also passed a separate bipartisan school funding bill that would provide $19.2 million to schools to combat inflation and teacher shortages. The money would help school districts cover the costs of hiring paraeducators, substitute teachers, bus drivers, and administrative and support staff due to labor shortages.
Kurth and Lykam say that’s not enough when inflation is 7.5%, and say the state – which is sitting on a $1 billion surplus, a $2 billion tax relief fund billion and nearly a billion dollars in cash reserves – can afford more.
House Democrats have proposed increasing per-student funding by 5%, arguing that schools have been underfunded for more than a decade.
“And I think when we talk about bringing talent to our state…we need to spend more time looking after our education if we’re going to bring people back to our state,” Kurth said. “We are falling behind.”
Cournoyer, a former Pleasant Valley School Board member who chairs the Iowa Senate Education Appropriations Budget Subcommittee, disputed Kurth’s claim.
She noted that more than 54% of the state’s $8 billion budget is spent on education and says lawmakers have increased funding for education by more than $1 billion over the course of the year. last decade.
Davenport’s parent Holly Green, who attended Friday’s forum, echoed Kurth that a 2.5% raise isn’t enough.
Green said she wants Republican lawmakers in the state “to spend their time, energy, and money in Iowa doing things that would help K-12 schools,” rather than advancing plans for laws focused on restricting books, materials and programs that schools or educators distribute that parents consider obscene.
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Green, a mother of five, said her eldest was studying to be a teacher.
“Teachers are doing an amazing job in our schools across the state,” Cournoyer said when asked by Green about whether lawmakers will support demoralized and burnt-out teachers, “instead of making their lives a little more difficult”.
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“The books in question have extremely sexually explicit content,” Cournoyer said. “We’re not talking about banning ‘Tom Sawyer’ from ‘Huck Finn’ or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ We’re talking about books that contain explicit sexual content…and I don’t see how that’s relevant or appropriate for K-12 public school libraries.”
Cournoyer also highlighted his support for increasing funding for Iowa community colleges and incentivizing school-based learning, “where companies come in and participate in these STEM and CTE programs and really create these pipelines. to these well-paying jobs”.
Lykam also said he is focusing on supporting learning programs, as well as expanding childcare assistance.
Green, after the meeting, said she wanted Iowa lawmakers to return some of the state’s budget surplus “to schools, which desperately need it right now.”
Instead, Iowa Senate Republicans plan to use the state’s taxpayer trust fund to provide tax relief to Iowa families and businesses, Smith said.
The Republican proposals would phase in a flat income tax from 3.6% to 4% for all income brackets, cut corporate taxes and eliminate taxes on retirement income.
“We’re going to be looking to give some of the money back to hard-working Iowa taxpayers who will keep people here,” he said. “It’s going to bring people here. We’re going to get rid of the retirement tax to keep retirees here in Iowa.”
The variable proposal from House and Senate Republicans would save taxpayers — and therefore reduce state revenue — between $1.7 billion and $2 billion.
Ludwig said the chamber was “inclined to support a reduction in corporate rates” but questioned how lawmakers proposed to account for lost revenue.
Smith said Republicans would pay for the tax cuts using state cash reserves and projected economic growth.
“We’re also going to fund education like we’ve done, health care like we’ve done and also public safety like we’ve done,” Smith said. “And so I’m confident that we will.”
Lykam argued that the Republican Senate’s tax reform plans would primarily benefit high-income earners and may not be sustainable.
“I’m all for tax cuts, but I’m all for if those tax cuts benefit the middle class – my constituents,” he said. “If you don’t have that income, then you’ll have to increase fees on services elsewhere in the budget.”
Democrats have instead proposed increasing the child and dependent tax credit for Iowa workers. They say it would reduce the amount people owe in taxes and, in some cases, generate annual tax refunds, lowering taxes for low- and middle-income Iowans.
Halpin and McCombie were asked how they would react to rising unemployment insurance costs.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s proposed state budget did not include money to repay the $4.5 billion the state borrowed from the federal government to keep its trust fund afloat. unemployment insurance at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The governor’s office said negotiations with lawmakers and labor and business leaders were underway, including using much of the remaining $3.5 billion in U.S. federal bailout funding to reduce the deficit.
McCombie warned that if the state does not take action to reduce the deficit, it could lead to massive unemployment insurance rate hikes for businesses and benefit cuts for those filing for unemployment.
Halpin said he supports investing much of the state’s $1.7 billion surplus in the unemployment trust fund, “so that cost doesn’t translate into by an increase in costs for companies or a reduction in benefits for our unemployed”.
McCombie added, “It’s extremely important that we pay this back. Otherwise, it will cost Illinois more,” either through higher tax rates or reduced benefits.
— Erin Murphy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette contributed to this article