Sen. Rich Taylor says bipartisanship can produce quality legislation
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
It will be a different atmosphere for State Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mt. Pleasant, when the gavel sounds today, starting the 2017 session of the Iowa Legislature.
Taylor, however, is approaching the session with the same enthusiasm and hope that he did during his first four-year term. Following the Nov. 8, 2016, general election, the rural Mt. Pleasant resident lamented that things will be different come January.
However, after a few weeks of thought, Taylor said his desire to serve his district remains strong.
“I had a lot of mixed emotions when the November election put us (Democrats) out of control in the Senate,” he admitted. “However, during the last four years I worked with the Republicans on a lot of good legislation. I feel I can continue to work with the GOP, and we can come up with good legislation together. Not all Republicans think alike, just like all Democrats don’t.”
His first priority this session will be the same as in previous years — school funding. Taylor said he would introduce a bill calling for 6-percent supplemental state aid (allowable growth), knowing the bill will go nowhere. “I would really like to see school districts get 6 percent because they have been under-funded for years.”
Taylor said he has heard Republicans in the legislature want to increase school funding by 2 percent. “That is not enough,” he commented.
He also has concerns about a school voucher program that some Republicans favor. “I know they are looking at the voucher program, but you have to be careful on how they are structured,” he said. “A poorly designed voucher program could hurt the schools they are supposed to be helping.”
Money will be tight, though — something both parties can agree upon. “New” money is estimated at anywhere from $150 million to $225 million, depending on who is doing the talking.
That means the scissors will have to be brought out on some programs, Taylor said, but he would like to see the knife put to some tax abatement programs received by corporations.
“With little new money, it means something is going to have to give a little,” he said. “We can’t continue funding some things the way we have in the past.
“Some people are looking at cuts in the wrong direction,” he continued. “I feel we have too many tax giveaways to corporations and they don’t need them because corporations have the money. I think the Republicans aren’t looking at cutting tax breaks hard enough.”
There have been some rumblings about separating school districts’ transportation costs from the general fund, thereby freeing up more spending money for schools. Superintendents in rural districts, where transportation costs are the highest, strongly favor the separation.
While saying he would support such legislation, Taylor said legislators from urban areas oppose it, which presents a big problem. “Nobody has figured out how to separate transportation costs out of the general fund. The big schools will fight it. You are going to have to have some give and take from both sides because there is more representation (in the Legislature) from urban areas and they oppose it.”
Mental health and the privatization of the Medicaid system remain huge issues, the senator said. He noted that more state-run mental health facilities are needed and there is a drastic lack of mental-health beds in the state.
A staunch opponent of the Medicaid privatization, Taylor said he still hears many complaints about the current system. “Providers say they aren’t getting paid or they say they can’t provide the care they once did. These private care companies are becoming the doctor in addition to paying the bill.”
Cities, he said, should be concerned over the continued state backfilling of commercial tax revenue lost when the commercial tax code was overhauled. The state promised to backfill the tax lost for three years and this year marks the third year.
“When we approved the commercial tax cut, the idea was that new business would bring in more (tax) revenue than the tax lost,” he explained. “However, it hasn’t happened that way. I don’t think we will stop it (backfill) next year (2018) though because it is an election year.”
A former employee of the Ft. Madison Correctional Facility, Taylor has long supported more funding for corrections, and he will beat the drum again this year. “We can’t keep cutting funding to prisons and think everything will be okay. We need more staff. One staff member for 50 inmates is not enough.”
It is likely that sometime during the session, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will ascend to the top rung as current Gov. Terry Branstad has been appointed ambassador to China by President-elect Donald Trump.
Taylor, who never has been a fan of Branstad, thinks things will be different under Reynolds. “I don’t think Reynolds will be able to railroad the Republicans like Branstad did. I think Republicans will stand up to her. I just hope she listens to the people because Branstad wouldn’t.”
Legislators’ expense money runs out on April 28, and Taylor doesn’t anticipate the session ending quickly. “The Senate Republicans have a lot of issues to bring forward and they aren’t going to lay down without having their issues heard.”