Q&A: Jack Whitver, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Pat Grassley, Speaker of the Iowa House

January 16, 2023 | ABI to Build on Successes of 2022 Legislative Session

Historic Personal and Corporate Income tax reform and reduction were passed in 2022. Many are now talking about focusing on property taxes in 2023. What are your goals for property tax reform? 

GRASSLEY: Our plan is to approach property taxes this session with a taxpayer-first mentality. Property taxes are the hardest tax for the State Legislature to influence, but we are committed to finding some creative solutions to deliver relief and certainty for Iowans regarding out-of-control property taxes.

WHITVER: Our goal in addressing property taxes is simple, protect the taxpayer and control the growth of government. In 2019, the legislature implemented a number of changes to improve the transparency of the property tax system in Iowa and give property taxpayers better tools to interact with their local officials about their assessments and their levy rates. 

In 2021, the legislature eliminated a property tax levy, moved mental health services off property taxes paid for those services with state revenues. Those changes have led to a reduction in property taxes in different parts of the state. However, even with the elimination of the levy and the migration of those costs from local government to the state, property taxes remain a concern for many Iowans. 

Will property tax reform discussions include the streamlining of local services to eliminate cost pressures on local governments? 

GRASSLEY: We are still putting together our initial bill on property taxes, but the main objective will be to offer real relief and certainty to property tax payers. 

WHITVER: In contrast to the 2021 reforms, I don’t foresee a significant shift of services and the costs associated with them from local governments to state government. The focus of this year’s reforms will likely move towards controlling growth and the protecting property taxpayers from what is likely to be significant increases in property value because of the historic inflation caused by the reckless spending policies of the Biden Administration. 

Finding employees for open jobs continues to be a challenge for Iowa employers. The affordability and availability of childcare and workforce housing remain a challenge. Do you anticipate legislation to address these and other barriers to employment? 

GRASSLEY: From raising income eligibility for the child care tax credit, creating an off-ramp from child care assistance, and ensuring our unemployment system operates more like a reemployment system, Iowa House Republicans have led on this issue. Iowa’s workforce challenges remain a main concern and priority for our caucus. 

This year the Labor committee has been renamed to the Labor and Workforce committee to further reiterate our commitment to addressing this major issue in Iowa. There’s no silver bullet to fix the workforce shortage in Iowa so we will continue our work to address this with policies to increase access to affordable child care, incentivize people to be educated for high-need jobs in Iowa and stay in Iowa after graduation, and help Iowans off of government programs and allow them to better themselves and grow in their careers. 

WHITVER: During the last General Assembly the legislature made a number of changes to child care policy, including reducing overly burdensome state regulations. Those regulations were stricter than the federal government standards or the regulations in adjacent states. We also passed tax credits, established a task force, and the governor has approved challenge grants all designed to help Iowans access affordable child care. We will continue to pursue ideas to ease the burden government places on both child care providers and homebuilders.

A priority for Senate Republicans has been welfare reform. The number of able-bodied Iowans in the workforce is still below the pre-pandemic levels and many more job openings exist than Iowans on unemployment. We plan to keep working on welfare reforms so healthy, working-age Iowans have every incentive and the fewest burdens possible to join the workforce and provide for themselves and their families. 

Large jury awards for non-economic damages in Iowa translate into high premiums for liability insurance for affected industries, notably health care and trucking. Many states have addressed this issue with caps on such damages. Will Iowa act to control such costs for businesses and consumers?

GRASSLEY: Out-of-control awards for non-economic damages not only drive up the costs but in some cases they put folks out of business entirely, lower access to health care and slow down the supply chain. This is a complex issue we have worked toward addressing in previous sessions and remains a priority for House leadership. 

WHITVER: The Iowa Senate has passed a number of pieces of legislation over the last 6 years to curb lawsuit abuse for non-economic damages and it will remain a priority for many of us again this year. When I talk to business owners across the state, it is one of the things I hear about consistently. Controlling these costs is one more thing we can do to help Iowa grow, help businesses succeed in our state, and make our state more attractive to businesses.

Iowa has a shortage of health care in rural areas and lawsuit damages so severe they drive rural health care providers out of business only make that problem worse. I am hopeful we can work with the House and Governor Reynolds this year to make some progress on this issue.

Please comment on Iowa’s budget and finances. Reserve funds are full and our annual ending balances reflect strong revenue. What plans are there for these dollars? 

GRASSLEY: Iowans have come to know Iowa House Republicans as the caucus that will pass a responsible budget that will cut wasteful spending and properly fund Iowans’ priorities. This session will be no different. Iowa’s healthy reserve funds and ending balance will continue to be returned to the taxpayers through the tax cuts we have delivered. 

WHITVER: Iowa is in a strong place with our budget and finances because of the careful budgeting over the last several years. Fiscal responsibility has been and will continue to be really important as we look at our budget and priorities and also control the growth of government. The budget surplus is an overcollection of taxes and our intention is to give it back to the taxpayers in the form of permanent, sustainable tax relief. Our goal is to make our state friendlier to taxpayers and employers, more competitive with other states, and more attractive to people looking for new opportunities. 

Mandates in health care can increase costs to employee health plans which is often managed through higher employee premiums or lower levels of medical coverage. Do you expect any health care mandates to be enacted in 2023?

GRASSLEY: We are always looking for ways to drive down the costs of health care in Iowa for individuals and employers. This session, I expect many of our members to bring ideas to the table on how best to do that and we will give each of them the proper consideration they deserve. 

WHITVER: In the Iowa Senate we have tried to be careful about adding health insurance mandates because mandates typically do increase the cost of health care. As I have said over the years, Iowans have not been asking me to make their health insurance more expensive. I am hopeful we can continue to limit any additional mandates for health insurance and not see those costs increase on Iowa families. 

Employee safety has led many ABI employers to adopt drug testing protocols to provide drug free workplaces. The complexity of Iowa’s drug testing law makes these programs difficult to manage. Is there an appetite to address changes in Iowa’s drug-free workplace policies?

GRASSLEY: Our caucus is open to listening to any concerns of Iowa business to ensure this law is as efficient and effective as possible. 

WHITVER: Over the last six years, the Iowa Senate has passed bills on workplace drug testing so employers have the tools they need to ensure a safe work environment their employees. I expect the Senate would be open to addressing this issue again in the future if needed. 

When the gavel falls on the 2023 Session, how do you hope it is remembered?

GRASSLEY: My goal for this session, and every session, is for Iowans to know Iowa House Republicans as the caucus that delivers on exactly what we say we’re going to do. After the last election, we now represent all 99 of Iowa’s 99 counties. We are in touch with the people of Iowa from river to river, in all corners across the state. We are in a strong position to listen to Iowans, deliver on their priorities and follow through on the promises we’ve made. 

WHITVER: I hope the 2023 session is remembered as pro-taxpayer, pro-parent, and pro-growth. Our goal is to continue to implement the same policies that have delivered Senate Republicans into the first supermajority in the state by either party in fifty years. I see our historic electoral success as a validation of our policies and my desire is to continue to implement that agenda for the next two years.