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Gov. Kim Reynolds will unveil her policy priorities tonight at the annual Condition of the State address.

Reynolds told reporters last week that she plans a “bold and historic agenda” for the 2022 legislative session, including tax cuts, a “comprehensive workforce package,” and education reform.

WATCH THE CONDITION OF THE STATE HERE AT 6 PM:

“I believe that this upcoming session represents yet another opportunity for us to come together as one state, accomplish great things and continue to lead this nation,” she said. “Iowa is moving in the right direction.”

Reynolds ‘excited’ about tax cuts

Reynolds was reticent to discuss the specifics of her tax plans with reporters last week.

“I’m not going to give any details, but I’m excited about where we’re at,” she said.

She said the state’s $1.24 billion surplus is evidence that Iowa is collecting too much from its citizens – and that overcollection is making Iowa less competitive with other states.

“Every single one of those states are reducing taxes so that they can be more competitive, grow their economy and bring people to the state of Iowa,” she said.

Reynolds said whatever tax cuts come next, they need to be fiscally responsible and maintainable over time.

“We have to make sure that we can still fund priorities that are important to Iowans: public safety, education,” she said. “And I think we’ve demonstrated that we can do that.”

Broad workforce package will include child care, job training

Throughout the COVID pandemic, Iowa employers have struggled to find enough workers, even as the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak in 2020.

“We’re still above the national average, but we’re not back to where we were prior to the pandemic and we need to figure out why,” Reynolds said.

Iowa’s unemployment rate in November was 3.7% – a far cry lower than the 11.1% unemployment rate the state recorded in April 2020, during the shutdowns. But the rate is still significantly higher than it was in November 2019, before COVID, when the state’s unemployment rate was 2.8%.

The number of people participating in the workforce has also fallen between November 2019 and November 2021. In 2019, 70.4% of Iowans were participating in the workforce – either holding a job or actively looking for one. In 2021, just 66.8% of Iowans were active workforce participants. That’s a difference of about 81,600 people.

Reynolds also noted that two-thirds of Iowans on unemployment are between the ages of 25 and 54 and pledged to look into why that age group was lagging.

“We’re willing to invest in Iowans,” she said. “There’s tremendous opportunities out there for great careers across every single sector.”

Reynold promised a “comprehensive” proposal to address the issue, including changes to career training, child care and the unemployment system.

“The unemployment code was written a long, long time ago, when we were in a much different position,” she said. “And today, we need to incentivize work, not pay people to stay home.”

Reynolds announced in October that Iowa Workforce Development would introduce new rules to promote “rapid reemployment.”

The new work search requirements for some unemployed Iowans took effect Sunday, requiring job-seekers to meet with a career planner and do at least three other “reemployment activities” each week.

Parent choice to drive education policy

Reynolds said parent choice will continue to be a major theme in 2022.

“One of the outcomes of COVID is it gave parents a front-row seat into what was happening in our education system,” she said.

Through the pandemic, school boards and parents debated mask wearing in schools. Reynolds and Iowa’s Republican majorities maintained that parents should decide whether children should wear face coverings. A court ruling allowed school districts to impose mask mandates to protect disabled students.

Late in the year, a new debate emerged. Some parents and lawmakers asked school boards to remove certain books with explicit or controversial content.

Reynolds said schools need to have more transparency for parents, including a list of books available to their children.

“We just need to make that accessible to parents so that they can even have a better idea of what’s available to their kids… and what’s being taught in the classroom,” she said.

But Reynolds also acknowledged the successes in Iowa schools, and she commended teachers for staying strong through tough times. She and other Republicans have emphasized the importance of opening schools in person before many other states.

“We need to be in a classroom. It’s a safety net for kids, as well as social, emotional growth,” she said. “We figured out a long time ago how to do it safely and responsibly.”

Reynolds said that decision was also driven by parents, who called her and lawmakers and pleaded with them to reopen schools.

“I think that’s a dynamic that you’re going to continue to see play out with parents as they continue to really pay attention to what’s happening in our schools, good and bad,” she said. “And they’ll react accordingly.”

This story is published with permission from Iowa Capital Dispatch.

This article originally ran on globegazette.com.

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