Prichard, Brown agree, first priority is COVID-19
By James Grob, firstname.lastname@example.org
Iowa Rep. Todd Prichard, (D-Charles City) and Sen. Waylon Brown (R-Saint Ansgar) are in opposite parties and two different legislative bodies, but they might as well have been talking in unison on Monday.
COVID-19 comes first — then everything else.
“Obviously, COVID is going to be the biggest factor we’re looking at this year,” Brown said. “It’s unfortunate the vaccine rollout hasn’t been what we were told it was going to be, but we have to deal with what we have.”
Brown said that he hopes for continued patience from Iowans as society gets back to normal.
“The vaccine is the next step to try to take us back to normalcy, and we just need to continue on that path,” he said. “The top priorities this year are going to be items related to COVID.”
“Our first priority is going to be to get the state through this pandemic and get people back to work,” Prichard said. “We want to get the economy rolling while we keep people safe.”
He said he wanted to get kids safely back in school full time and make sure Iowa’s stressed health care system weathers the COVID-19 storm.
“We’re still seeing a high number of cases, so we’re not through the woods yet,” he said. “We need to get the vaccine out to the people who need it. It is going slower than what people had hoped, but no matter how fast we get it out, it wouldn’t be fast enough.”
Prichard and Brown were in the Iowa capitol building Monday for the swearing in of the Iowa legislature, launching the new legislative session. Both said that the largely ceremonial day went smoothly, despite all the COVID-19 precautions.
“As far as atmosphere and mood, everything was ‘Iowa Nice’” Brown said. “We had a great swearing-in and great conversations.”
After the swearing in, there were a few committee organizational meetings Monday, but the first week of the new session is traditionally mostly ceremonial. This week the Legislature will hear speeches from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Chief Justice Susan Christensen, as is tradition.
Brown easily won re-election over Osage Democrat Deb Sharper in November, earning 65.5% of the vote to Scharper’s 34.5%, and won more than 60 percent of the vote in all seven counties in District 26.
A farmer and small business owner, Brown has served in the Iowa Senate since 2016 after defeating incumbent Democrat Mary Jo Wilhelm of Cresco.
Brown he said he will serve as the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee this session, as well as serving on the Commerce Committee, Labor and Business Relations Committee and the Ways And Means Committee. He will also continue to serve on the Administrative Rules Review Committee, which meets year round.
On Ways and Means, Brown said he anticipates taking a look at the income tax, the inheritance tax, property tax reform, and a number of other tax issues.
“We may see conversations continue on the governor’s Invest In Iowa Act that she proposed last year,” he said. “There’s any number of issues that will find their way to Ways and Means. It doesn’t just have to be taxes. Anything with a fee or a fine attached to it will come through our committee.”
He said that most of the bigger bills typically don’t reach Ways and Means until well into the legislative session, when the Senate has a better idea of what kind of revenue they have in hand.
“What we’ve done over the last four years really did put Iowa in a good place financially, in regard to COVID recovery and the budget,” he said. “This could give us the opportunity to work on some major tax structure changes.”
He stressed that the Legislature needs to be careful.
“We need to keep in mind that just because we’re seeing good projections doesn’t mean that’s going to hold true,” Brown said. “We’re not out of the woods by any means, when it comes to COVID. One hiccup and we could be back to square one with our revenue.”
Prichard, the House minority leader, was re-elected to his District 52 seat over Craig Clark from Rockford. Prichard received 53.7% of the vote to Clark’s 46.3%. Prichard was unopposed in the 2018 election, and this will be his fifth term since winning a special election for the seat in 2013.
Statewide, the Democrats lost six seats in the Iowa House in November, as the Republican Party increased its majority to 59-41. The Republican majority in the Senate remained where it was before, with the GOP holding a 31-18 edge, with one seat currently absent.
Prichard agreed with Brown’s assertion that the state is sitting in a good financial position.
“Iowa’s budget is in fairly good shape,” he said. “We haven’t had to use any reserves.”
Prichard said that there was a good amount of “ending balance money” available which doesn’t need to be paid back. He said he would like to see some of that money used as stimulus money for small business and workers, and would like to see some of it go to help people meet rent and mortgage obligations and help meet their household needs.
“We also could give more assistance to food banks,” Prichard said. “There are a lot of Iowans who are food-insecure right now. We need to use all the tools we have available to help people meet their household needs and get the economy back on track.”
As far as the tax cuts Brown and other Republicans have mentioned, Prichard is wary, although he admits that as a member of the minority party, there isn’t much he can do about the agenda.
“If we’re talking about simply cutting taxes for people at the top, I don’t think we’re going to fall in line with that,” Prichard said. “If we’re talking about tax cuts for working Iowans, then we’ll have that conversation.”
Prichard said he wants to help the needs of working Iowans while still meeting the obligations of the state.
“We need to make sure we’re funding education, health care and infrastructure,” he said. “We also need to make sure that it’s not just a burden shift — if we’re cutting taxes at the state level, and it leads to higher taxes at the local level, that doesn’t do anyone any good.”
Prichard said a tax cut just for the sake of a tax cut would be irresponsible.
“A tax cut sounds good, but someone always pays for the tax cut,” he said. “I don’t want to see working people having to pay for someone else’s tax cut.”
Prichard also said he would do what he could to oppose Republican efforts to fund private education with public dollars.
“We provide a lot of support from private schools and homeschooling, which I am in favor of, but we can’t fund those private choices at the expense of public schools,” Prichard said. “We already don’t fund public schools adequately, so using public money to fund private schools would not be a good use of our tax dollars.”
Prichard also voiced frustration that he’s been unable to get the majority of Republicans to acknowledge that there are serious problems with Iowa’s Medicaid program.
“We’ve never made the commitment to fund and manage the system the way it was designed to be funded and managed,” Prichard said. “We put rural hospitals in a bind and they’re not able to offer services. The community then suffers without adequate services, and it directly impacts ambulance services and all these other things that are essential.”
The 100 members of the Iowa House took their oaths of office Monday morning. Twenty-five newly-elected members of the Iowa Senate were sworn in as well, with one senate seat vacant. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa resigned her Ottumwa-area state senate seat shortly before she was sworn in as a member of the U.S. House. A special election to fill that state senate seat will be held this month.