Podcast

On this edition of Iowa Press, Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives Pat Grassley (R - New Hartford) discusses the beginning of the 2022 legislative session, and House Republicans’ agenda and priorities.

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are James Lynch, political reporter for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Henderson: A new legislative session underway with new priorities from Governor Kim Reynolds. What are the priorities for House Republicans? We'll find out on this edition of Iowa Press.

Voiceover: Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends. The Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa. The public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge, and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products, including fuel, grocery, and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together, we fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities, and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at iowabankers.com

Voiceover: For decades. Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, January 14th edition of Iowa Press. From the House chamber of the Iowa Capitol, here is Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Welcome. And we welcome to this edition of Iowa Press House Speaker, Pat Grassley. Representative Grassley, welcome.

Grassley: Glad to be here.

Henderson: How long have you been Speaker?

Grassley: Two years now,. This will, you know, we kind of had the half session with the pandemic and everything. So I've been able to do this will be my second full session then a half one, I guess you could say. So...

New Speaker: Exactly. <Laugh> Well, joining me to ask questions of you today is James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Lynch: Mr. Speaker, thanks for joining us. I wanted to start with an idea from Governor Reynolds that seems to be getting the most talk and most discussion and that's her flat tax proposal. A 4% flat tax. She said that would save taxpayers about 500 million the first year. And by the time it's fully phased in, it'd be about 1.6 billion dollars in savings. With G O P control of both chambers of the legislature, is that a slam dunk?

Grassley: Well, so what I would say is obviously the governor's agenda that she laid out in her condition of the state and she's released to the legislature fits a lot of the things that we've been talking about. This being one of them. Being able to reduce taxes on all Iowas. And so we want to be a part of that conversation. We feel pretty strongly that focusing that the way she has on individual income tax and rolling in pension and retirement income is gonna be a really productive conversation for us to have. As far as you know, we have with, with the ending balance that we have with the cash reserves full with the taxpayer relief fund, having over a billion dollars in it, we feel that we have the resources to be able to achieve that goal of getting to that. Now, as we talk about it in caucus next week, we'll try to develop a plan working off that as a baseline. I don't think that the gov, how often does the governor or any leader just come out with a plan and that it just runs right through the legislature. But that being said, I think she's trying to get to the same place we are and that's something that's sustainable and provides real relief. So I feel really good about the plan that she released.

Lynch: She billed this as flat and fair. How do you ensure the fairness for, especially for low income Iowans, who aren't paying 4% in income taxes now?

Grassley: Well, I think, I think we need to look at that as we're making these decisions. I don't think we want to be, and I've said this now for the last couple weeks, I don't want to be going somewhere to raise a tax, whether it's outside of income tax or within the income tax brackets to offset any sort of tax cuts. We can, we've got the resources right now to have tax relief without having to raise taxes on Iowans. So I'm hopeful, that's the path we go down. You know, the governor laid out in her plan you know, not necessarily using all of the taxpayer relief fund right away. That's something we may discuss as a caucus. That's a potential option if we would wanna modify it the plan. But again, I think the important piece is the governor's plan is sustainable and puts us in a really good position to be able to take that and run with it.

Henderson: You mentioned the taxpayer relief fund. It's a fund created a couple of years ago and unspent money at the end of the state budgeting year is put in there. It's sometimes called the surplus. By July 1st, there should be $2 billion in it. And you and your Republican colleagues in the House have been talking about returning that to taxpayers. The governor's not returning that to taxpayers.

Grassley: So, and, and I, I understand why the governor's doing that. It's to make sure, you know, we have the revenue right now. Don't forget on top of that, we also have nearly a billion dollar ending balance and the cash reserves are all full. So I always remind everyone that there's a different ways in which you can do that, whether you speed up the, the tax reduction using some of those resources, whether you supplement more of that due to into the growth piece. So that's what we're gonna work through as a caucus. And I think but again, the ultimate goal of getting to that tax, and we don't have to do it on the backs of Iowas because we've kept the state open and we have a strong economy. I'm really excited about the position we're in.

Henderson: Is the ultimate goal for House Republicans to get there at some point to get to zero?

Grassley: As, as I've said, all along as anyone that thinks that Republicans don't wanna work towards that as a goal, you know, that's part of what we are. I mean, that's what we're defined as, as Republicans. But again, I think the governor showed that we're gonna, whatever it is to reduce that it's going to be sustainable. And it's gonna take time to do that. But right now, I think the focus needs to continue to be on the plan that the governor's put forward.

Henderson: So, but one last question on this particular topic. If you get to zero, does that force you to raise some other tax?

Grassley: Well, and again, I don't want, I'm trying to steer the conversation away from the zero, because I think as Republicans, we should not stand in the way of wanting to continue to lower the tax burden. However, that being said, where we're at today with the resources we have, we need to be responsible in doing that. And that's what I think the governor's plan uh you know, that's what she's trying to do as well. I think for any Republicans here and say, oh, I don't know, I don't wanna lower taxes. You're probably not gonna hear that very often from any of us. But it's whatever we do. And as we work down that, and we've shown that we can do it sustainably, we're gonna keep doing that.

Lynch: Another part of the governor's proposal was exempting retirement income. Why that carve out? What's the advantage to doing that? How does that benefit the state?

Grassley: Yeah. So I think what we're seeing right now. And this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. I know that, you know, these tax policies that we're trying to pass is for all of Iowans. And then you take this one on top of it. I think we're losing a lot of those peoples that I, that I would say are kind of the pillars of our communities. They're the ones that volunteer. They're the ones that philanthropically are supporting those organizations and foundations in the community. I think we want, we, we want to keep those people and, and they want to stay in Iowa. But if it's beneficial for them just to maybe move across a border somewhere or move to some other states that don't have these, I don't want that to be a barrier to keep those people in our communities as kind of what I would call those folks that are the anchors of the community.

Henderson: There's also an element of the governor's tax plan that would benefit farmers who are retired. Now, all three of us grew up on farms. How do you define a retired farmer? Are they gonna have to divest of their equipment? I mean, what sort of...

Grassley: And I, so we are actually having a meeting, you know, we're getting...We're sorting some of those details out, so make sure I can understand that. But I think the governor said it best. And, and as we learn the details, you know, I could probably give have more comment on that. But I think the governor said it best. For a lot of, and we probably all know this coming from, you know, that background that a lot of retirements in the ag sector revolve around that, that dirt. I think, I think the governor said something similar. It's that dirt that they've farmed whether it was theirs or their parents or in the family, and that has been part of their retirement or their retirement plan entirely. So I wanna understand that a little bit better, but I definitely think that needs to be part of the conversation.

Lynch: I don't have to remind you that this is an election year. The governor's speech, was it a good campaign speech? Was it a good agenda for her and for legislative Republicans to run on?

Grassley: So, I would say that if it it's interpreted to be a campaign speech in any way, I don't look at that as a bad thing, from the standpoint of we're doing everything that we've said that we're going to do when we've been elected. So if it's, if some want to call that a campaign speech. As long as your elected officials are following through with what you're saying, whether it's on the campaign trail or here in front of the legislature and, and to the state of Iowa, I think that I think that fits what I've also been saying, which is, you know, we're gonna tell you what we want to get done. And then we try to come down here, and we have the trifecta, so we've been able to do that.

Lynch: Democrats would say that you campaign as moderates and govern or legislate in the extreme.

Grassley: Mmhmm. Well, I can tell you that... A perfect example would've been last year. If the policies that we pushed the first bill out of the gate was getting the kids back in school. If, if you know, that was something we talked about in the campaign trail, and we did it. So if the Democrats want to claim that we're being extreme by doing things like that, to get kids back in the classroom, you know, I think Iowans have spoken pretty clearly that we're following through with that. And the fact that we've maintained the majority now for you know, we're going over 10 years, maintaining the majority in the House here. I think that if Iowans felt that we were doing that, we would not continue to be rewarded with the majority of, at this point 60.

Henderson: One of the watch words heading into the session was workforce. Legislators from both parties said it was a priority to take some more steps to address a lack of workers in Iowa. One of the things that a House subcommittee did this past week was address the childcare issue. And I wanna ask specifically about a proposal that would change the rules so that one person could be in charge of a room full of two year olds. Eight two year olds. Do you think that is reasonable?

Grassley: So what I would say to that specifically...Remember if that requirement were to, you know, if those requirements are to change, whatever they are, you know, almost call those regulatory. Let's just use that word. That doesn't require everyone to have to do it. I mean, it isn't like you have to meet that threshold. I think we're in a position where we have to be putting all the options on the table. And I've said this about workforce. All of the options have to be on the table, whether it's childcare, housingattracting people to the state. We need to have these kinds of hard conversations and find out what we really think long term solutions and part of that plan is going to be. Sofrom that standpoint, I'm gonna be encouraging our committee chairs to have creative ideas. Let's debate it as a caucus, as a House, and see what are those ideas that we really feel. Because we're in a position where I think Iowas are expecting us to be bold and take action, because as we all know, you pull up and you wait for something for 40 minutes, it used to take you three. That doesn't take very long for people to very quickly, even if they're not political to say, hey, you know what's being done? So those ideas need to be on the table.

Lynch: So parents in several school districts this year have raised concerns about curriculum, about books in the library, about what's being taught. And the governor addressed this in her speech and called for all these materials to be put on the internet so they could be available for inspection at any time. She didn't go as far as what has been suggested in the Senate of creating some criminal penalties for teachers who use these materials or make them accessible. Did she go far enough? Did Governor Reynolds go far enough? Educators are pushing back already saying this is kind of busy work. It's gonna be costly and very time consuming. Is there a sweet spot?

Grassley: Well, I can tell you from, from my perspective as the House leader some of the other conversations about criminal penalties and those kinds of things, that's not the conversations I want to have in the House. Our conversations need to center around transparency, and the governor, I think, touched on that. And I think we're gonna, you know, we've already been engaging in those conversations as a caucus. And then also making sure there is parental involvement. You know, we can, we'll be, we'll be able to have those conversations, whether it creates more busy work and those kinds of things. But right now you're seeing all across the country, and the state of Iowa, more more and more people, not just Republicans. I think it's always, oh, it's the Republicans. Americans, Iowans are engaging in these policies. And so from that standpoint, I think you're gonna see us going down that path, not some of the the other statements that have been made dealing with criminal type penalties.

Lynch: Almost every school district, probably all school districts, have some sort of policy and procedure for reviewing materials if they're challenged or questioned. Are you thinking you're gonna make a statewide policy, have a statewide process for doing this?

Grassley: Well, at this point, you know, again, that's part of the details we're working for. And I know we have members of our caucus that have been whether it was engaging with the governor's office or just independently. But again, I think this is another one of those issues that whatever that ends up being, cause I probably can't answer the direct question, what that could be at this point, James. But I would say it's gonna be focused on transparency and making sure that parents are involved.

Henderson: In regards to the U.S. Supreme court. Let change gears here a little bit. They're expected to rule in June on Roe v. Wade. There are other states that have laws already on the books that say if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, this would be state law, do you and your Republican colleagues in the House expect to draft something similar?

Grassley: So at this point, and I would say there's a other issues before the courts that are moving through the process right now. And this is my mentality that I have on this is, we have, we have shown here in Iowa that our House caucus is extremely pro-life. We have made sure to take every opportunity that was available. I also think we need to be smart in our approach to this. I think we need to wait and see, you know, no one knows what the court's gonna do. Obviously. It's not like we have some sort of secret insight that others don't. But I think we need to see what the court is, and like some other issues, be prepared to react as a legislature and be prepared to engage. I don't think we want to just pass a bill, not knowing what the outcome is at the federal level, and we've now complicated the matter. Because this is going to be, as we all know, it's gonna be, if that were to happen, it's gonna be a huge topic of conversation. And I don't think we want to just say, well, if this happens, we're gonna speculate and pass 'em. We need to know what the facts are and deal with them as we have them.

Lynch: Going back to workforce. The governor addressed the unemployment system and she said she wanted to create a reemployment division, which we're hearing only has one employee. Beyond that, she also talked about cutting unemployment benefits from 26 weeks now to 16 weeks. Couple questions. One, is that fair to unemployed Iowans? And number two, how long do people stay on unemployment?

Grassley: Well, I think...So the kind of the overarching question here is back to what I said earlier. All these ideas have to be on the table. And what I would say you know, right now the employers that I'm hearing from you know, if, if we're gonna talk about fairness, what they're going through to try to hire a workforce. And my opinion is is very unfair. They've invested all of this time, all this effort into creating whatever it is that they have, whether it's a construction company, whatever those things are. And they are offering people work. And if people aren't taking it, the state, again, back to what we talked earlier has to be able to come in and look at this. It's not like the governor is taking this down to a number which is unreasonable, in my opinion. And with the amount of jobs when you're up between 80 and a hundred thousand open positions in the state, I don't think this is an unreasonable request. The governor's not bringing this at a time where there's no jobs that can be filled. This is, this is more, the market has put us in a position where we have to be bold here in the state, and that's a part of it. So I'm, I'm comfortable with engaging in that piece.

Lynch: Do you agree with the governor that the safety net has become a hammock?

Grassley: Well, I haven't had the opportunity to really come up with a term. But what I can say is if the safety net is in the way of able bodied and people that should be in the workforce. If that has become part of keeping them out of the workforce, the legislature, in my opinion, needs to be willing to react.

Henderson: Moving on, the governor recommended 2.5% increase in state funding, general state funding, for schools K through 12 schools, for the Regents institutions in Ames, Iowa City and Cedar Falls. And for the 15 area community colleges. One of those decisions have to be made pretty quickly.

Grassley: Yeah.

Henderson: Um is two and a half percent something that House Republicans will approve for Iowa's K through 12 schools?

Grassley: Yeah. And as, as you know, we'll, again, back to what I said earlier, we have not caucused on all of these pieces yet. However, I think the governor came with a very reasonable approach, which will be, You know, we've typically used the governor's proposal in her budget as our starting point. I think that that is a very reasonable position for the governor to take to start at. I won't be making any commitments on what that would look like. But you know, using that consistency across between the Regents and the community colleges. I think one of the things, you know, from all of those, you're gonna see us. I use the Regents, for example, I've been meeting with the presidents and, you know, I really think that we need to engage when we're talking about funding, we need to engage in, what can we do to address the workforce situation? What are our Regents universities, for example, doing to help fill those, that hole that we have right now in the workforce? So a lot of our conversations, again, are gonna be more creative and, and maybe non-traditional conversations surrounding some funding some mechanisms like that. I think

Lynch: We've been asking you a lot about the governor's agenda. I want to ask you one and more. How much of her agenda is must do? How much is can do? And how much is not do?

Grassley: From her perspective or ours?

Lynch: From your perspective.

Grassley: <Laugh> Well, here's what I can say is. When she was laying out her agenda during the speech, I would say, and, this was not pre-planned. We didn't sit down and say, hey, let's both talk about this. I think she was hitting on the same things that I've been talking about leading up session. That members of our caucus are talking about. So the have dos and the must dos, I think you're looking. I mean, clearly if we were unable to do something on tax reform there'd be a level of disappointment. So, you know, things like that, that if it sounds like the House, Senate and the governor have all talked about just over and over and over. Those kinds of issues, we have pretty high expectations for.

Lynch: And can you do it in a 90 day session as...

Grassley: I've been around here long enough not to make that commitment, James. Absolutely not. I can tell you, you know, the closer we get to planting season you know, that sometimes speeds up the process as well.

Henderson: The governor in her speech mentioned support for carbon sequestration efforts. In an interview with Radio Iowa, she said her goal there is to buttress or support research into how best to store carbon. But there are now three separate liquid carbon pipelines being proposed for Iowa. Does it have ramifications for House Republicans that governor Branstad is involved in supporting one of those pipelines? Does it make it difficult for you folks to pass any sort of legislation that might restrict eminent domain?

Grassley: Well, and I would say, you know, I think we have to think about, you know, with you said multiple projects going on. You know, each project is going to be different. From the standpoint of understanding the ramifications of this. Obviously, you know, we've, the governor has talked about and we've talked about doing more for renewable fuels. This is part of that conversation. Different bill, obviously, but part of that conversation. And so from the standpoint of who's involved in that stuff, I don't look at it as that being a driver. It's moreso gonna be like we talked about, we talked about eminent domain being an issue. I've had conversations with a lot of these folks that are thinking about doing this. And I know that they have a very high expectation of themselves to reach those levels in which we're not gonna have to be looking at mass condemnation. And I think that the legislature should look at it from the standpoint of, you know, let's see if these companies are able to do that. And then if the legislature would have to step in at some point, that's a totally different conversation. But I don't want the message coming from the legislature is that we're not supportive of renewable fuels, and this being tied into that. Especially as much pressure as we try to put on the federal government, under both parties, as the governor said. As much pressure as we put on them, I don't want the legislature to come across that now we're following down that same path.

Henderson: Well, the Governor really scaled back her renewable fuels standard, if you will. Is it now easier to pass?

Grassley: But some of that is also kind of the being able to get legislation. I mean, you know, we obviously had some hangups. The House and the Senate both were trying to figure out a path. So I still think us showing that we're taking those steps that we need to take is better than us not taking any sort of action. And that's why I think you're gonna see the legislature take some action on renewable fuels, the infrastructure and the E 15 piece.

Lynch: Do you feel comfortable that land owners, farmers in particular, have enough protection when these pipelines are proposed? I mean, I've never heard a farmer welcome a pipeline across a field. Are there enough protections?

Speaker 4: Well, and I think, again, I think that needs to be part of the conversation long term on what the legislature engages. You know, there's been eminent domain conversations going on for before I was here obviously. We've had some, you know, governors vetoes over it and things like that. Some of the conversations I'm hearing, you know, there's land owners that want to be a part of some of these projects because some of the payouts are very, very aggressive. So a lot of that depends on what the project looks like and what the investors or what the company may be offering as payments. You know, sometimes if you don't offer a good compensation package, it leads to different outcomes. But my hope is that they've seen that nobody wants to try to use eminent domain. But again, if the legislature at some point has to act, I'm not gonna sit here and say, we rule that out either, But I want to these, I wanna see these different entities reach those very high levels to avoid mass condemnation.

Lynch: Speaking of pipelines every day I get reports from the national conference of state legislatures and groups like that, that point out how states are living off COVID relief from the federal government. What happens when that spigot gets turned off?

Grassley: Well, I think that's, oh, sorry.

Lynch: Can you expand childcare? Can you build out broadband? Can you do all these things that you and the governor are talking about without those federal funds?

Grassley: Well, I think, and that's why you've seen as we're putting the budgets together each year, we're not taking, trying to come in and say, hey, let's put these federal funds into this program. We're gonna pull away from 'em. We've tried to maintain our commitments that we've been making that are ongoing and not use those federal funds. I think the governor's trying to find creative ways in which to use them that are not necessarily ongoing expenses and puts the state in a position where then when those federal funds do run out, then all of a sudden we have a hole. I can tell you that every decision that we're making budget- and tax-related is going to be looking at that as part of whatever package, and then what we expect to be when those federal funds are gone. So we are looking at all of those things as we're making our decisions.

Henderson: Loyal viewers of this program will note that we had a discussion with a couple of experts on the gambling industry in Iowa. And a representative of the state's casinos said there's no consensus among the casino community about further into online gaming. Not just sportsbook, but. What's the temperature read among Republicans? Are you done expanding gambling in Iowa, or do you think that is something that should be discussed, this online gaming?

Grassley: So my understanding is from the industry. I think probably it sounds like we're being told the same information. There is not consensus within the industry. I think the legislature needs to be. There needs...If, if there's going to be any of that conversation, there has to be consensus within the industry. Whenever we've taken any sort of action like sports wagering, for example, there was pretty unanimous front from the industry. What I can say is one thing we're being mindful of, you gave me an opportunity to talk about this. As a former approps chair, I'm not gonna miss an opportunity to do that. But you know, one of the pressures we have is Nebraska coming online for their sports betting and we fund infrastructure projects as a state. So we have to be very mindful as we're making those decisions what some of these impacts are when it comes to gaming and then how that's affecting the decisions we make in the budget.

Lynch: Talking about sports betting Iowans wagered about $2 billion last year. That money that the state collects from that is sitting in an account. What should that be used for? Should that be dedicated to a specific purpose?

Grassley: Well, I, as well as many of my colleagues have several ideas. I did have a conversation with our state government chair and said, hey, you know, let's start having that conversation 'cause the money's coming in maybe a little more than expected. And so I think we need to be from the standpoint of where does, where should that money be dedicated? Should it just be left out there and you kind of pick and choose from it? I don't think there's anything wrong with us looking at doing some things with it that benefit Iowans. So we're gonna engage in those conversations. But it's always been so hard because when you have that unobligated funds, there's probably a hundred different ideas of legislators that want to use it for different ideas.

Henderson: Cedar Rapids, once again, seeking a casino license. Should legislators get involved at some point, or are you comfortable with the gaming association regulators making that decision?

Grassley: At this point, I don't think we're to the, I don't think we're to the point, you know, it's a tough balancing act to try to decide, 'cause it depends where this is all like where you live, right? I mean, if I live there, I may not want one. I may want one. If I run the another casino I may or may not. So as we're standing right now, I'm fairly comfortable with the position that the state is in when it comes to that. But again, I think we need to just be monitoring and if we have to react, we should.

Henderson: Well, thank you for sharing your views with our viewers and listeners.

Grassley: Yep.

Henderson: You can watch Iowa Press at any time on IowaPBS.org. You can join us at our regular broadcast times, 7:30 on Friday and noon on Sunday. For everyone here in this perch in the Iowa House of Representatives, thanks for watching.

Voiceover: Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa. The public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge, and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products, including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together, we fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at iowabankers.com.

 

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