2020 Legislative Preview: Workforce, Tax Structure Emerge as Key Policy Issues Among Business Leaders

January 14, 2020

The Business Record’s ramp-up to the next legislative session included meeting with legislative leaders, staging a Newsroom 515 session with business and government leaders, and reviewing the wish lists issued by major business organizations. 

Patterns emerge. If these folks have their way, lawmakers will spend considerable time this session looking at another round of tax reforms. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver has said he wants another cut in the income tax, and that is high on business leaders’ list. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation setting up personal income tax cuts in 2018, with possible later cuts coming if the economy meets some fairly lofty goals. Now, Whitver said, there is talk of corporate tax cuts, tweaking property taxes, and maybe raising the sales tax a penny for conservation and recreation efforts — if the increase is offset by cuts. 

Many business interests also want to build on last year’s added support for Future Ready Iowa, which matches workers with training and education, but fully funding the program. They want more money to encourage the construction of workforce housing, a critical issue across the state, especially in rural areas, Newsroom 515 panelists said. 

Here are some takeaways from Joe Murphy, Iowa Business Council Executive Director, at the Newsroom 515 session. On the panel alongside Joe Murphy was; Andrea Woodard, senior vice president of government relations and public policy for the Greater Des Moines Partnership; Dustin Miller, executive director of the Iowa Chamber Alliance; Jen Schulte, director of government relations and communications for the city of Des Moines; and J.D. Davis, vice president of public policy for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

Tax reform

Murphy: “One of the things that is important to talk about is to do something substantive on tax policy, particularly on the corporate side. We are currently at a 12% corporate rate. That’s the highest in the nation. Some of my friends might point out that we did have a tax reform package a couple of years ago that will lower the rate to about 9.8%, so we go from 50th to 47th. As we talk about expanding businesses in this state and bringing businesses into this state ... that’s one piece of substantive policy that I think we’re expecting to have a conversation on, and you’ll see us being very active in that space.”  

Workforce

Murphy said Iowa needs to be as “welcoming and inclusive as possible.” Also, he called for work with licensing and other government regulations to make it easier to move from state to state. “We have some of the more stringent licensing requirements in Iowa, and that has a direct impact on people’s ability to move back or to get back into the workforce in Iowa.”

Affordable housing 

Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, asked what businesses could do to help communities work on affordable housing issues. 

Murphy said the Iowa Business Council and the Greater Des Moines Partnership have pushed for added spending on the trust fund and workforce housing tax credits. “I think our role in some of this is to trumpet the message that this is a workforce issue. It absolutely is. Our role is to try to be a thought leader to bring this to attention to let policymakers know that this is not just about tax policy and it’s not just about corporate tax credits. This is about barriers to workforce and barriers to entry into the workforce. If you can’t get a house that will support your family or will provide the support for your family that you need, that’s going to be an issue. Particularly in the rural parts of the state, that workforce housing is lacking. There needs to be a systematic approach to that. “We have a long way to go, but we need to address it now, because if we don’t, the housing situation obviously will just get worse.” 

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