Last one out, please turn off the lights
Date February 04, 2005
Section(s) Columnists
By Sen. Dennis Black  
Writing a budget that is balanced and reflects the priorities of Iowans is the Legislature’s most important job. This week Gov. Vilsack started the debate on state spending by releasing a budget plan for the new fiscal year which begins July 1. The details of the governor’s proposal are available on the internet at

I tend to support many elements of the governor’s budget for it calls on Iowans to endorse economic development, increase state investment in education for all ages and increase access to health care for kids and seniors.

The first step to help Iowa schoolchildren occurred on the west steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, when surrounded by Republican and Democratic legislators alike, Gov. Vilsack signed legislation to increase basic funding for Iowa’s public schools. Both parties agreed this was just the beginning, and we will soon be doing more to improve student achievement and initiate means for serving the critical areas of early learning, teacher pay and initiatives to keep Iowa schools safe.


The loss of many of our best and brightest graduates to employers in other states in recent years was brought home in dramatic fashion. An example received this week attested to the fact that between 1989 and 2001, Iowa lost a net total of 70,000 bachelor’s degrees, being a third of those produced in the state. On the other hand, our neighbor to the north, Minnesota, gained 159,000 young folks with college degrees during the same period.

Gimmicks won’t work to reverse the flow. The balloon released last week calling on the elimination of income taxes in the 20-30 age category as a means of keeping our youth in Iowa popped shortly after release. The answer is simple and everyone knows it: Jobs! Whether its college graduates, high school graduates or GEDs, their number one reason for leaving the state is seeking employment. Good paying jobs are available in surrounding states and that tends to be the number one draw. Additional reasons include climate and recreational and leisure-time opportunities.

As I’ve stated repeatedly in past columns, government must not be in the business of job creation. Private initiative will happily step forward and risk personal assets when an opportunity for profit is apparent. Government often attempts to entice entrepreneurial effort through financial incentives. Yes, that helps. But no one should believe that other states aren’t doing the same.

Reduced impediments are a significant factor in business staying and locating in Iowa. Therefore, this coming week I shall be introducing legislation calling for a blue-ribbon panel of Iowans, a true cross-section of who and what we are, to step forward and prepare a plan which identifies those confining elements that tend to keep business from locating in Iowa, and those reasons that keep domestic business and industry from expanding.

SURE, WE CAN ALL “knee jerk” responses to such a query, but let’s have some folks from outside government do this one. After all, we must definitively identify the issues which inhibit our growth, before we can focus on a public policy strategy for a solution. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I would hope my proposed legislation would receive serious consideration. Frankly, if government leaders think they now have the answers, then why do we lose our young and bright to other states, why do so few business start-ups occur in Iowa, why do our Maytags and John Deere’s downsize and outsource, and as the result, we who remain feel the pain of higher property taxes, income taxes and user fees.

Problem solution can only occur once alternatives and options are identified. That’s all I want to do — have dialogue at your Capitol in Des Moines regarding the problem, identify possible solutions and receive recommendations on policy creation and implementation. We darn well better start doing something, or the last one out — please turn out the lights.


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