What’s Gov. Kim Reynolds got to worry about?

In Iowa Capital Dispatch interview, governor reveals her fear for farmers

Gov. Kim Reynolds
Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses legislative issues in her office at the Statehouse on Dec. 19, 2019 (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gov. Kim Reynolds doesn’t seem to have a lot of worries these days.  She’s starting the second legislative session of her four-year term.  Her Republican Party controls both chambers of the Legislature. And her campaign just announced record-breaking fundraising for this stage of any Iowa governor’s term.

Reynolds sat down with Iowa Capital Dispatch recently to talk about her expectations for the legislative session, which starts Monday. While she’s no different from past governors who like to withhold their plans until their Condition of the State message, she offered a few bread crumbs. She also disclosed one issue that has her concerned.

Leery about levees: “Probably my biggest fear, to be honest, especially along the western and the eastern sides of the state is we’re really vulnerable with our levee system and grounds are saturated. South Dakota has continued to be hit …  we actually lucked out. We were in better shape than a lot of the other states around us with our with our yields.”

But, she added, “I’m just really nervous about what we’re looking at.”

Reynolds said Homeland Security Director Joyce Flinn is working on a plan for potential flooding next spring.  She said the state is also looking at whether it can “be purposeful with some funding” to protect levees upstream and therefore stave off more flooding downstream. But that’s a delicate balance, she said.  “Because the federal government thinks you don’t need their money and then they’re not coming with the money that they promised you through the (Army Corps of Engineers) and FEMA, she said.

Sales tax skepticism:  Reynolds has not been at the forefront of discussions about whether to raise the sales tax but GOP legislators seem to be seriously considering it this year. The discussion comes a decade after Iowa voters created the Iowa Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) to dedicate a portion of any future state sales tax increase to water quality and outdoor recreation. But lawmakers have expanded the discussion to include a source of money for mental health services and some form of overall tax relief.

Reynolds has often reiterated her commitment to finding money for mental health. But she has not said whether she will propose her own plan that involves an increase in the sales tax. What she did say in the interview is that any tax increase would need to be offset by even greater reductions in the overall tax burden.  “I think it’s really important to make it be an overall tax reduction,” she said.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses reporters at an Associated Press forum days before the opening of the 2020 legislative session. (Photo by Perry Beeman)

At least one major interest group, the Farm Bureau Federation, has proposed using a sales tax increase to replace local property tax spending on mental health.  Reynolds was skeptical, however.

“So that’s the question that we have to find some consensus on: Do you consider reducing property tax (to achieve a) net tax reduction. And then it’s kind of dicey when we look at property taxes because local governments still have the opportunity to do different things. And so we portray it as a tax cut. And then Iowans after a year or two see their taxes continue to go up, and they think nobody’s being completely honest with them.”

Instead of property taxes, Reynolds pointed to the potential for accelerating the income tax reductions lawmakers approved in 2018.  The legislation provided “triggers” that would only implement future tax cuts if state revenues met specific benchmarks by 2023.  But, Reynolds said, she won’t support more tax cuts if they’re not sustainable.

“I’m not going to go down that path if we can’t fund the priorities that we set aside, which is education, public safety, health care, you know, so … that’s a component of that conversation as well,” she said.

Voting rights for ex-felons: Reynolds proposed a constitutional amendment last year to automatically restore voting rights for people who have served their sentences on criminal charges. The resolution passed the House with bipartisan support but GOP senators raised concerns about restoring rights for certain crimes or before restitution was paid.

Reynolds said in the interview that she wants to see the Senate advance the House version of the constitutional amendment. She said she wants to see any exceptions to be handled in separate legislation to keep a “clean amendment.”

“I’m going back at it, and I’m going back at it hard. We need to get it done, “ she said.

Reynolds is scheduled to deliver her Condition of the State message to lawmakers and unveil her proposed budget on Tuesday.