Has The Tea Party Wave In Iowa Crested?

The year was 2010.  In Iowa, like in the rest of the Country, a reaction to the obscene growth in size and spending at all levels of government boiled into a loud and visible public movement.  The internet was a buzz, local Tea Party chapters were springing up, and the Iowa Capitol was the site of several well attended rallies expressing the sentiment of less government and lower taxes.  Two years later, it is time to ask the question—what results have come of this?

The short answer at the state level here in Iowa is—not too much so far.

Most will argue that more patience is required—and they are right.  Many will cite a variety of reasons that explain the lack of great action—some valid points to be sure.  Meanwhile, the more optimistic in the movement will point to some victories—and I grant that they have a case.

All this considered, it is hard not to be disappointed with the lack of impact Tea Party ideals have had on Iowa’s legislative process.  Let’s take a brief look at the landscape.

Victories So Far 

Probably the biggest achievement Republicans at the State House can point to is drastically slowing the pace of growth in the annual budget.  It would likely shock most Iowans to know that the total appropriations made by our legislature in the year 2002 was $4.375 billion dollars, less than a decade later (FY 2011) the amount spent had jumped to $5.8 billion, an indefensible increase of 33% in less than a decade.  Though slightly more money has been spent in each of the last few years, getting a handle on this expansion was not necessarily a given, and for this kudos are well deserved.

The problem here of course is baseline budgeting.  The ridiculous increases seen from 2002-2011 have now been built into future budgets—with next year’s expenditure and all projected future years being amounts in excess of $6 billion per year.  The reality is that Iowans, of either political party, who are holding their breath for a significant decrease in their taxes can expect two things—a blue-ish hue followed by a funeral.  The simple fact is that while future tax hikes can be avoided, as long as the legislature is spending over $6 billion a year—your taxes are not significantly going down.

Other victories that can be pointed to will be met by fiscal purists with justifiable skepticism, the formation of the Property Tax Relief Fund and 0% allowable growth for education in 2012.  Time will tell, but the Property Tax Relief Fund may end up being yet another technocratic “victory” in the legislative shell game.  I may be wrong, but I can tell you from experience that digging down into the details of many proposed reforms and tax cuts often end up being more of an exercise in moving money around than anything else.  In terms of the achievement of 0% allowable growth, this was gained in exchange for 2% growth in 2013 and could be completely erased if an already proposed 4% growth rate in 2014 is green lighted.  For the record, approving a 4% increase in education spending would directly cost taxpayers another $196.2 million.

The Reasons

There are many factors that account for this lack of action, and they make it blatantly unfair to directly blame our fiscally Conservative legislators for not achieving sweeping change.

Chief among these is the narrow, but iron fisted, control spend-happy Democrats have in the Iowa Senate.  Pragmatically speaking, one could argue it doesn’t make much sense to propose large initiatives that are effectively dead on arrival in the Senate.  In addition to this it is hard to get movement in these areas when one of the major players, the governor, is not fully on board.  Let’s face it, while he is undoubtedly a strong Republican—he isn’t exactly going to be caffeinating any bodies of water under the cover of darkness any time soon.

Realistically the most valid reason is the predetermined circumstances surrounding this session.  All the oxygen is being consumed by the massively involved efforts left over from last session, which include preventing built-in tax increases, re-structuring mental health services, and a flailing attempt at education reform.  A final thing that deserves mention is that they have been put on defense by having to block a continuing parade of costly bills introduced by the Democrats most Liberal wing.  Stay tuned as The Conservative Reader: Iowa will be posting an analysis of these proposals in the near future.

Some Boldness Would Suffice

I think that most Tea Party supporters in Iowa have, so far, looked at the variety of factors in play and given a pass to the fiscal-hawk wing of our legislature.  Most of us are reasonable in our expectations and we realize that big political results are hard to come by.  That being said, the time to at least start articulating a vision and making the case that real tax cuts will only follow real spending cuts is at hand.  At this point we are not even demanding deliverables—even some boldness would suffice.

An example of this boldness has been displayed recently by Sen. Brad Zaun, and everyone in the movement should take the time to drop him a note of moral support.  Knowing that it would not even survive funnel week, Sen. Zaun proposed a bold bill that contains a future vision of education in Iowa that is worth fighting for.  Directly following this session other Tea Party leaning members would be wise to start following suit.  It is their job to start constructing an agenda and a platform that can eventually cut taxes by cutting spending.

So, has the Tea Party Movement in Iowa crested?

While it is fair to reserve final judgment on this, the lack of real legislative results proves at the minimum it has receded.  As of right now the Tea Party trajectory in Iowa closely resembles the illegal immigration outrage that came to a National boil in early 2008—a huge movement that has delivered small victories along the way before largely fading.

After providing the weight for the water displacement which created the wave in 2010, many fiscally concerned Iowans are standing on the shore in 2012 with only soggy ankles.  I suspect that the political energy needed to make the case statewide for smaller government is still readily available.  What is needed at this point is a tightly formed caucus with a vision supported by pieces of actual legislation.

Without brave and principled leadership this movement cannot be sustained…we will be watching.

About the Author

Mr. Arnold is a long time constitutional conservative. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature from the University of Iowa. Over the last few years he has been involved in numerous political campaigns, most recently serving as campaign manager for an Iowa House candidate and serving as a city chair for Tom Latham. He is self-employed, running a small business in Ankeny, Iowa where he resides with his wife.

 

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  1. China Cat Sunflower | Mar 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Reply

    I completely agree. Having been an attendee at several Tea-Party rallies, I have a soft spot for the movement and have hope it will “come back to life” to help deliver some much-needed muscle. Great article-thanks!

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