Iowa's 85th General Assembly underway - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Iowa's 85th General Assembly underway

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DES MOINES (KWWL) -

Iowa lawmakers are back to work.

The 85th General Assembly officially got underway Monday in Des Moines.

Tax issues and education reform look to be top priorities for Governor Terry Branstad. But with a split legislature, and lots of new faces, accomplishing those tasks won't come easy.

At the capital, money matters are already center stage of discussions. From tax reform to education spending, to what happens with the projected $800 million surplus, Republicans and Democrats each have their own ideas about what amounts to the best use of your taxpayer dollars.

With the pounding of the gavel, the 85th Iowa General Assembly officially began at the capital Monday.

Members took their oaths of office and can now get to work.

Newly re-elected House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha promises tax reform will be top priority, since Iowa has the third-highest commercial property taxes and the 16th-highest residential property taxes in the nation.

Paulsen's Republican colleagues support his agenda.

"We need to do some property tax reform. I think that's a big one,"said Rep. Sandy Salmon, a Republican from Janesville. "We need to set a good climate for job and career opportunities in this state, for our businesses to move forward with that. So I look forward to being part of that effort."

When it comes to the surplus, some Republicans support giving part of it back to taxpayers.

"Last year, I was in favor of sending checks back. I think it's responsible budgeting," said Rep. Dawn Pettengill, a Republican from Mt. Auburn. "If ... we budget 99 cents of every dollar and they send us $1.25, why would we not send that money back to them?"

Democrats envision surplus funds as an opportunity to make strategic investments.

"I think we are in a good position of making infrastructure investments, especially in the energy area, in my opinion, making some of our private and public buildings more energy efficient, saving operational expenses," said Rep. Chuck Isenhart, a Democrat from Dubuque. "That's something we can do that'll put people to work, reduce our carbon footprint, and won't necessarily be an ongoing expense we can't support."

In light of recent national tragedies, legislators may also be tasked with talking about gun control and mental health reform.

"I certainly hope this is a reason we push forward very vigorously in the mental health area," said Isenhart. "Quite apart from what happened at Sandy Hook, it's an area we've needed to give more attention to. Hopefully, we'll create a stronger system, create better access, and make sure the funding is there for people who need it."

Education reform is also expected to be a hot topic at the capital this year. Gov. Branstad is expected to outline more specifics about his plan to improve schools and help teachers during his "Condition of the State" address Tuesday.

Branstad is also expected to deliver his budget to legislators this week, giving them plenty of time to mull it over during the 110-day session.

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