Staff Columnist

Iowa's been 'modernized,' but is it better?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the tax reform bill, Senate File 2417, into law in the offices of MobileDemand, 1501 Boyson Square Dr., in Hiawatha, Iowa, on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the tax reform bill, Senate File 2417, into law in the offices of MobileDemand, 1501 Boyson Square Dr., in Hiawatha, Iowa, on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

This fall, Iowa voters, be sure to ask your Statehouse candidates whether “modernization” is right for you.

After all, it’s been the go-to prescription in recent years, recommended by former Gov. Terry Branstad, current Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republicans running the Legislature. There’s nothing like a spoonful of modernization to help some very strong medicine go down.

Side effects? Never mind.

When Branstad-Reynolds moved unilaterally and swiftly to hand Iowa’s Medicaid program over to private managed care companies, they boldly dubbed it “Medicaid Modernization.

When the Legislature placed new restrictions on voting, including a future voter ID requirement, they called it the “Iowa Elections Modernization and Integrity Act.”

In February 2017, when the GOP legislative majority launched its plan for dramatically curtailing collective bargaining rights for most public employees, Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee Chairman Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, called the bill “a major update and modernization.” Then they shifted the legislative process into warp drive and made it law.

This year, lawmakers “modernized” Iowa’s tax code by applying sales taxes to video streaming, ride-sharing and other modern conveniences. They needed the money to help cover a budgetary hole blown by new income and corporate tax cuts.

They also “modernized” our state’s energy landscape by approving utility-backed legislation slashing funding for energy efficiency efforts.

That’s a lot of modernization. Iowa must be thoroughly modern by now. Flying cars, etc.

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Slapping “modernization” on legislation is akin to dipping it into some space-age polymer. It both beautifies and protects. Who, really, could be against modernization? People afraid of change, that’s who. Sultans of the status quo, unhinged at the sight of forward thinking.

But modernization also strongly implies we’re making things better. And it’s here where our Statehouse Mod Squad hit sinkholes on its superhighway to the future.

We had a state-run Medicaid system, admittedly with flaws and rising costs. But it was our system, run by Iowans, and we could fix it. Or elect folks who would.

Now, sick people, their families and health care providers are battling a tangled corporate Medicaid bureaucracy directed by out-of-state MCOs that routinely delay or deny care and payments. We were told modernization would miraculously shrink our state appropriation, but that’s seemingly not the case. And nobody can clearly explain why, not even with the help of modern technology.

We don’t even have transparent public oversight, let alone the power to fix it. That doesn’t seem better.

We had a 40-year-old collective bargaining system that could have used some smart adjustments. Instead, it’s been stripped to the bone, and Iowans who teach our kids, guard prison inmates and plow snow-covered roads lost most of their rights to negotiate pay, benefits and other working conditions.

Voting is being made more difficult and confusing in the name of fighting “fraud.” This fraud is real and modern like those flying cars.

Instead of boosting sales taxes to address one of our many modern problems, such as cleaning up dirty water or paying for better mental health services, the Legislature and Reynolds expanded sales taxes to pay for cuts to corporate and personal income taxes. And they’re cutting taxes at a time when our universities have been hit with waves of budget cuts and K-12 public school funding isn’t keeping up even with the rate of inflation.

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Education was once considered a strong modernizing force here in Iowa, an investment in a better future. Now, nothing beats tax cuts. We’ve piled them up to the tune of billions over the last two decades. It’s been a boon for the jet-set.

Encouraging energy efficiency, and businesses selling efficient technologies, once seemed like the height of modernity. That’s apparently not the case now, according to some of the same Iowa politicians who helped elect a president who thinks burning more rocks to make electricity will “Make America Great Again.”

What will they modernize next? Maybe the state’s pension system, or the way our courts function. Perhaps the stuffy old state constitution could use some modern adjustments. More tax cuts seem likely. There’s no limit to what you can cure when the prescription is modernization. But then again, some cures are worse than the disease.

All this modernizing is enough to make you ask a local barkeeper if an old fashioned is right for you. Make mine a double.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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