By Rep. DAN KELLEY
Final adjournment of the 84th General Assembly was reached late on Wednesday evening. Three weeks of budget stalemate came to a conclusion. While most rank-and-file legislators went home and left negotiations to leadership, I worked every day at the Capitol during the session extension. This gave me a good view of how negotiations were proceeding and allowed me to contribute to discussion when appropriate. While I would prefer the session had ended as scheduled on April 17, the extra days were a great opportunity to study various issues of interest and concern; education, ethics, environment and economic development.
When the 2012 session began, our top priority was to work together to find common ground and create jobs to grow Iowa's economy so that middle class families can get ahead. There is simply too much partisanship and focus on divisive issues today. When partisan politics were put aside, we were able to make progress for a better Iowa. Workforce development, higher education, veteran support, and senior citizen safety were areas of success for this legislative session.
We took significant steps to build Iowa's skilled workforce. We expanded training at our community colleges and kept these tuitions affordable for middle class families. We created new tuition grants for students to fill job openings in shortage areas where businesses are looking for workers. We also took action to help under-employed Iowans who want to upgrade their skills get the training they need.
Also, a new high-quality jobs initiative will help businesses expand while encouraging new businesses to locate in Iowa. We continued the innovation fund to commercialize research at our universities and encouraged more production of renewable energy. Focus on wind and biofuel will benefit Jasper County's job efforts and Iowa's ag economy.
These positive steps have been taken as economic indicators show improvement. Several new indicators out last week show Iowa's economy continuing to gain strength and poised for more growth. The latest report from the Mid-American Business Condition Index showed strong gains from March to April up to 60 from 58.6 for the Midwest. Iowa's manufacturing index led the gains with 28 consecutive months of growth and predicted Iowa's unemployment rate would drop again this summer.
Another index from the Iowa Department of Revenue grew again for the fourth straight month with six of eight indicators showing positive signs for Iowa's economy. In addition, the legislature's non-partisan fiscal agency also released a report last week showing state revenues are beating estimates by $85 million this year (which means a higher budget surplus) with revenues running almost 7 percent higher than last year. The strong revenues also mean the state will have a record high $595.5 million set aside in Iowa's savings accounts.
Positive economic indicators are all welcome news, but still, too many Iowans are out of work. I want to see Iowans move into the middle class, not be force out. Economic indicators are important to track, but I know many middle class Iowans are struggling to make ends meet. The job is far from done.
We know growing our skilled workforce and economy for the future requires a quality, affordable education for all Iowans and that's why we worked together to pass a bi-partisan education package. We expanded early literacy efforts and renewed state efforts to keep class sizes low in grade K-3. We began efforts to personalize instruction in our schools and allow students to move as they master concepts. In addition to increasing oversight of for-profit, on-line schools, we also expanded dropout prevention efforts.
As a member of the House Education Committee, I worked hard to find common ground and compromise on this education package. It is a significant step and will make our schools even better than they are today. However, I am disappointed the House majority party refused to adequate funding to schools to implement these changes. Clearly, we must improve education funding.
I am particularly proud of a host of bills to support military families and our veterans this session, including an expansion of injured veterans grants. We stopped a mid-year tuition hike for National Guard members in college and created a new "Veterans" designation on driver's licenses.
The Legislature worked together on a host of issues important to Iowans in public safety and health care. We protected seniors from abuse, enhanced laws concerning sexual predators and helped victims of domestic abuse. As ranking member of the Administration and Regulation Budget Committee, I fought proposed cuts to the Office of Drug Control Policy. I've been told by many supportive colleagues in both parties, as well as law enforcement officials, that my efforts improved the situation. I will continue to support the Office of Drug Control Policy and their work.
In health care, we approved a redesign of our mental health system to improve delivery of services, improved health care in rural Iowa and expanded the use of medical technology.
When we put politics aside, we were also able to forge a responsible state budget agreement that will leave the state with over $9895 million in surplus and reserve next year. We saved taxpayers $3.5 million by improving government efficiencies.
This is my final commentary of the 84th Iowa General Assembly. I will continue to keep you informed on issues important to Jasper County's communities and the state of Iowa with new editions of "Kelley @ the Capitol" during the interim. Feel free to contact me anytime at 641-521-9260 or dan.kelley(at sign)legis.state.ia.us. Visit my web site at electkelley.com, friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.