By Rep. DAN KELLEY
The new legislative session started with a call for bi-partisanship in the Iowa House. During speeches delivered in the Chamber on opening day, Democratic and Republican leaders said we must work together in 2012. I agree. The needs and concerns of Iowans will be effectively addressed if we put aside the partisan bickering that ruled the day last session.
After week two, I am further encouraged that bi-partisanship is more than a passing fad under the golden dome. Legislators on both sides of the aisle agree, we must prevent some in the majority party from using this session to push their narrow social agenda. Their efforts early last session forced a partisan divide which clouded the entire session.
Does bi-partisanship mean we will always agree? No. It means we must stay focused on the same goals. We must work together to grow our economy and strengthen our schools. We must craft a balanced budget, as required by law, while meeting the critical needs of Iowans.
Our job efforts should start with helping small businesses grow by reducing their property taxes and offering more technical and financial support. Main Street retailers and service providers deserve our attention, rather than large, out-of-state corporations as the governor suggests. To help ease the burdens of the middle-class and working families, we should put small and middle-sized businesses in a position to grow.
To these efforts, I am crafting a bill to provide micro-loans to entrepreneurs and Main Street businesses in rural communities. For too long, the economic development debate has centered on incentives versus tax cuts. I believe it is time for a new approach to enter the discussion. Low-interest, micro-loans can help a very small business with a limited number of employees to buy equipment, hire needed help and map growth strategies, leading to better jobs and more of them.
Micro-loans are not money down the drain, as some incentive programs have proven to be. I am proposing a strategy which will grow jobs and bring low-interest loan repayments back to the state coffers. If Iowa establishes a successful micro-loan program, we will put more Iowans back to work while creating a revenue source allowing us to lower taxes while meeting the needs of Iowans.
A level playing field is necessary for Iowa businesses to win contracts over competitors in other states. This week, I co-sponsored a bil reducing the sales tax requirements of environmental testing services. Surrounding states have already done so, and their strategy puts Iowa's environmental testing services at a serious disadvantage. If this bill passes, and becomes law, it will help our local Keystone Laboratories. Governor Branstad stated during a visit to Newton last year that he would sign this bill if it hits his desk. I pursued it last year only to have the House Majority decide late in the extended session that all sales tax reduction bills were off the table. Hopefully, our newfound bi-partisanship will help get this bill to Branstad for his signature. It has bi-partisan sponsorship.
In all, I started drafting 25 bills this week. Iowa job growth, a level playing field for Iowa's unemployed, cancer prevention and education, energy efficiency savings for public schools, wind energy tax credits and technological infrastructure are a few of the challenges addressed in my bills. I will further discuss them in future columns as the work progresses, including a bil to provide educational support for Iowa's military veterans.
On Wednesday, Major General Timothy Orr, the Adjutant General of the Iowan National Guard, delivered his annual Condition of the Guard address to a special joint session of the Iowa Legislature. Iowa is the only state in the union in which the National Guard leader annually addresses the legislature and governor in a formal presentation. I was honored to have a group of Jasper County veterans join me on this special occasion in the House Chamber.
One year ago, Iowa was in the midst of the largest single deployment since World War II. There were nearly 3,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen, one-third of the force, deployed in Afghanistan. Over the past decade, 15,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been deployed overseas. General Orr announced that for the first time in a decade, there are no Iowa units currently deployed overseas.
Unfortunately, as General Orr stated, over 10 percent of the soldiers returning home are unemployed. Keep in mind, the most recent state unemployment estimate was 5.7 percent. Nationally, 39 percent of veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 are unemployed. These numbers are unacceptable.
Making matters worse, the returning 3,000 National Guard members were informed, upon their arrival, their tuition assistance benefits were being cut dramatically. This forced many of them to stay at home rather than return to campus for the spring semester. This is a benefit they have earned and expect.
I believe our National Guard members deserve better, so I'm working with my colleagues to quickly approve a bill that will allow them to return to school. The Senate Majority successfully passed the bill on Wednesday afternoon just after General Orr's speech. I am hopeful we will accomplish the same in the House early next week.
Feel free to contact me anytime at 641-521-9260 or dan.kelley(at sign)legis.state.ia.us. Visit my web site at www.electkelley.com, friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.