The 2007 legislative session opened in January with a sense of historic opportunity: Millions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of new jobs in ethanol and biodiesel plants have given rise to renewed optimism across Iowa. Healthy state revenues gave legislators some dollars to work with. And the fact that Democrats controlled the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature - for the first time in 42 years - reduced chances for gridlock.
The Register's editorial board challenged the Legislature to seize this opportunity with action on two broad fronts: Target investments to make Iowa the epicenter of research and know-how for renewable energy, which could bring new prosperity to Iowa for decades to come. And build on the momentum from past sessions to improve the quality of life for all Iowans, including top-notch schools, clean water and more cultural and recreational amenities. The editorial-page staff tracked the Legislature's progress on 10 specific issues, and today we issue grades for the session.
The two biggest achievements: Putting substantial state dollars behind research and development of renewable energy. And making a significant commitment to raise teacher salaries, so that veteran teachers will more likely stay in the classroom and talented prospects will be more likely to choose to teach. Skilled teachers are key to higher achievement by students.
In contrast, beyond expected funding, the Legislature made no new strides in ensuring Iowa's lakes, rivers and streams are clean enough for fishing, swimming and other recreation.
We handed out three incompletes - for increasing health-care coverage, making property taxes more equitable and ensuring open government. In each case, an interim committee has been appointed to continue work over the summer. An interim committee also will continue work toward creating a sustainable source of funding for recreation dedicated to the outdoors. Plus, given the 9 percent jump in spending over last year, a lot of study this summer should go into figuring out how Iowans can keep paying for it all.
The final grade for this year's session can't really be assessed until the 82nd Assembly wraps up its work next spring. It will take diligent work by the study committees, legislative leaders and the governor to build public consensus around tough issues such as property-tax reform and water cleanup. The tendency is to keep putting off the hard decisions until another year.
Without headway on the really tough stuff, the 82nd Assembly will be notable not for its accomplishments, but for a historic opportunity missed.
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