By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
On Sept. 25, the League of Women Voters of Linn County held and moderated a debate in Central City at the Falcon Civic Center, where the room was full of people from State Senate District 48. Those in attendance came to support and hear from State Rep. Nate Willems and his opponent Dan Zumbach. About 75 people packed the hall, with standing room only.
Zumbach offered his goals for the legislative session should he be elected: “I’ll carry your voice.” He said he would listen to what his constituents have to say and take their concerns to Des Moines.
“We need to set a budget and adhere to it and fund departments appropriately,” he said. Zumbach noted it’s important to separate the wants from the needs.
Willems said every year, the issue is adequate funding.
“We haven’t done a good job these last couple of years,” he noted. “We need to maintain balance in the legislature on both sides and have common ground.”
When it came to education and funding allowable growth, Zumbach said, “Allowable growth is exactly what the term says.” He said the legislature has the ability to increase funding to schools, according to what the budget stipulates. “It moves with what the budget possibilities are.”
Willems said allowable growth should be set a year in advance; however, it was not set for the 2013-14 academic year. Willems said he feels the state could afford a 4 percent allowable growth, funding it through reserves.
“The state can afford it,” he said.
Willems and Zumbach both agreed that the 4-year-old preschool grant is a needed and necessary program.
“It’s an important program to continue and should be a top priority,” Willems added.
“There’s no question it’s a great program,” offered Zumbach, “but who’s going to fund it?”
Zumbach said we have great teachers in our schools here in Iowa, but they are being held back due to over regulations. “They deserve more pay,” he said.
Willems said with the addition of Kirkwood’s Jones Regional Education Center in Monticello, the campus has offered area students a plethora of educational opportunities they may not have otherwise. He said when he was in high school in Anamosa, he did not have these types of courses offered at JREC at his disposal.
Budgeting is always a major player in any election. Zumbach said Iowa can’t help what is passed down (or isn’t passed down) to the state from the federal level. Above all, though, he said it is important to keep funding our schools.
Willems explained cuts to programing due to a weak budget “is a bi-product of a divided government.” But, he believes Iowa could handle any cuts from Washington, D.C.
Health care, affordable health care, has now become a law in the U.S. Supreme Court. Willems asked, “Why repeal it?” He said the law provides health care for those up to age 26 and for those with pre-existing conditions.
Zumbach said the law is not “well-defined. There’s no opportunity to understand its effects, which makes it hard to budget for.
“Preventing one’s choices concerns me,” Zumbach added.
The commercial property tax relief is something Willems said he voted for repeatedly to fund.
“It’s a direct benefit to our Main Street businesses,” he said. “They need help.” He added that the big box stores don’t need the property tax as much as your hometown shops and stores do.
Zumbach agreed that the commercial property tax relief needs to happen because he is seeing businesses go elsewhere. “There’s not security for businesses,” he said. “We need businesses to build here and create jobs.”
The gas tax has also been a hot-button issue. Willems said the tax needs to go up. He said the last time it was increased was in 1989.
“It’s an unmet need,” he said. “People are frustrated with the funding for roads and bridges.”
Zumbach had similar thoughts, saying our infrastructures are deteriorating faster than the road departments can keep up with.
Women’s health has also been an issue in the news. Zumbach said organizations like Planned Parenthood provide needed services. He said there are private ways to fund these types of programs.
Willems said the state does not provide funding to Planned Parenthood for anything other than preventive screenings. He said it is a worthwhile program, especially for rural Iowa and low-income households.
With Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz in Anamosa last week talking about the voter ID situation, Zumbach said all citizens of Iowa should be allowed to vote and vote for his/her choosing. Zumbach said if one has to have an ID today to function, then the voter ID “fits with society.”
Willems said the Constitution states that everyone has the right to vote. He said this is stated in the Constitution and not stated by Schultz himself.
“There’s been no evidence of widespread conspiring,” said Willems, referring to voter fraud. “It’s political and I don’t support it!”
In their closing remarks, Willems said he left Iowa to attend college and came back to “plant his roots.” He wants to help young Iowans find their paths and come back to this state to work and raise their families.
“We need to retain our young families,” he said. “We need both parties to work together.”
Willems said if he is successful in the election in November, the Democrats will be in control of the state Senate, versus one party in control of the entire state government.
“I’ve served two terms and I care deeply about the future of this state,” Willems said.
Zumbach said, “I am not the most polished guy.” He said he would take everyone’s voices down to Des Moines if elected in November, and establish a budget to support all services needed.
“It’s your money and your services,” he said.
PHOTOS: Top: State Rep. Nate Willems addresses the crowd of 70-plus people in Central City during a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Linn County. Willems spoke on a variety of topics, including the importance of keeping the 4-year-old preschool grant program. Bottom: Dan Zumbach, running against Willems, said he is in favor of commercial property tax relief because businesses are going elsewhere. He said jobs need to be created right here in Iowa. (Photos by Kim Brooks)