September 15, 2014

Raise the wage challenge ends
Families that need medical cannabis have rough road ahead
Iowa ranks high for fiscal responsibility
Courts work to save money & time for Iowans
News you can use

I ended my attempt at living on the minimum wage last Friday. After seven days trying to get by on $77 for food and gas, I failed.

The Raise the Wage Challenge was organized here in Iowa to raise awareness about how hard life is for Iowa families and individuals living on wages from low-wage jobs and the need for politicians to vote to raise the minimum wage in Iowa. The Challenge gave me a very small taste of the difficult decisions people face every day to get by. But as I said earlier, this experiment is a world apart from what living on the wage is really like.

I did not have to worry about feeding two or three kids on my budget. I did not have to worry about getting kids to school or daycare. There were no unexpected bills for car repairs or medical bills. No worries about rent or utility bills. I had enough food from my trip to the grocery store, but my travel to Des Moines for a meeting broke the budget.

I have appreciated all the feedback I have received from people that have a lot of experience REALLY trying to get by on low wages. Their comments and suggestions showed some of the harsh realities of this struggle. It is not fair to go to work every day, work hard and still not have the money you need to support you and your family.

Senator Tom Courtney and Senator Rob Hogg also accepted the challenge. We will need to compare notes and stories. We will all be working to raise the minimum wage when the Iowa Legislature returns to work in January.

In addition to raising the minimum wage, we need to pass legislation to address wage theft. A study by the Iowa Policy Project estimates that $600 million is stolen from Iowa workers every year by employers that don’t pay their employees what they are owed. This is a scandal. Efforts to crack down on employers that steal from their employees have been blocked by Iowa business groups and the Republicans in the Legislature.

Get this. If I shoplift $30 in goods from Walmart, I will get arrested and maybe spend some time in jail. If I short my employee $250 in pay I owe him, nothing happens. If the employee can prove it and the state says I must pay (we have only one state employee investigating complaints from 1.8 million Iowa workers), then I pay the $250 with no penalty.

Wage theft happens most from low-wage workers. It is stealing and must end.

The testimony the Medical Cannabis study committee heard last week from families and sick Iowans was heartbreaking. Are we really going to make our families continue to beg us for the medicine they need?

When will Governor Branstad and Republican leaders start listening to Iowans that need our help? The law we passed this year is broken. It will not help the kids it is supposed to help. It needs to be fixed when we return to Des Moines in January.

Where do your state representative and state senator stand on this issue? Are they willing to help? Don't know? Time to find out. The upcoming election is your chance to decide who represents you. Find your legislators at

A perfect credit rating and strong budget make Iowa one of the best run states in the country. As your state senator, I am committed to keeping Iowa’s finances in good shape.

I am proud of the bipartisan efforts of the Legislature to balance the state budget without raising taxes and set aside money for a rainy day. We use caution when determining how much to spend by looking at recent revenue estimates from a nonpartisan panel of experts and budgeting in a conservative manner.

With this approach, Iowa is expected to have a budget surplus of about $735 million when this fiscal year ends on June 30, 2015. We also have $696 million in our Cash Reserves and Economic Emergency funds, the largest amount in state history. These rainy day funds-- equal to about 10 percent of our state budget-- are among the strongest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman noted Iowa's strong fiscal condition in her review this summer of state finances. Auditor Mosiman stated: "Not only has the spending gap been reduced to $171 million, but we now have a surplus of almost $750 million, in addition to our reserve funds which are full. The fiscal discipline of the last few years is paying off, and we need to ensure it continues."

Iowa consistently earns the best-possible credit rating from Standard and Poor’s, which means the state has an "extremely strong capacity to meet financial commitments" in full and on time. This strong credit rating, in addition to our well-managed budget and low debt, put Iowa among the top three best-run states in the nation, according to 24/7 Wall Street.

Iowa does pretty well compared to other states, but there is always room for improvement. This fall, I will be reviewing the state's finances as a member of the Legislative Fiscal Committee, a bipartisan group of five state senators and five state representatives. My goal is to come up with new ideas that will make a difference for the better by improving state government and the services provided to the people of Iowa.

Iowa's court system is also saving Iowans' hard-earned money through innovative ways to provide faster and less costly resolution to legal disputes.

The courts recently established special expedited procedures for lawsuits with less than $75,000 at stake. Changes will reduce the cost and time associated with civil jury trials.

Those who file a lawsuit may choose to use an expedited process, which means the case must be tried within one year, and the award is limited to $75,000. The case will be heard by a six-person jury and the attorneys on each side will have a six-hour limit to present the facts of the case.

These changes offer greater access to justice for those with legitimate claims that were not considered cost effective in the traditional court system. The expedited process, along with small claims courts and business courts, offer Iowans multiple options for resolving civil disputes of all sizes.

For more on the new expedited process, read the court order on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at


Public meeting on Iowa Park & Ride plan
The Iowa Department of Transportation will hold public input meetings around the state to identify locations for park and ride facilities to serve commuters. Our regional meeting will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on October 2 in North Liberty at the North Liberty Public Library, 520 W. Cherry Street.

DOT personnel will make a presentation on their plan and be available to discuss it with Iowans. Public comment will be accepted through October 16. In addition to the meeting, comments can be submitted through an online survey at View the plan at

High school students: apply to be a page
Each year, high school juniors and seniors work as pages at the Iowa Capitol during the legislative session, which runs from January through mid-May.

This is an excellent opportunity for students to learn firsthand about state government, work with elected officials, and see how ideas for a better Iowa become legislation.

Job duties include responding to requests from legislators and staff, assisting during committee meetings, and distributing and organizing materials and supplies. Pages are paid $8.74 per hour. They may also arrange for academic credit with their high school.

The application deadline for the 2015 session is October 3. For complete details and an application, go to

Grants to preserve historic documents
Through October 14, the State Historical Society of Iowa is accepting applications for Historical Resource Development Program grants to preserve documentary collections. The program provides matching grants to individuals, groups or organizations to preserve documents, records, newspapers, photographs or similar types of historical materials. Applications may be submitted at More information is available at or by calling 515-281-4228.

Iowa Student Loan giveaway for parents
Iowa Student Loan wants to help parents pay for their kids' college education with a special giveaway this fall. The Save Now, Save Later: College Savings Plan Parent Giveaway offers parents a chance to win $1,500 and learn more about financial planning for college in the process.

Parents who are chosen as winners can have the $1,500 deposited to an existing College Savings Iowa account, or a new account can be set up upon winning the giveaway. The program is open to Iowa residents who have a student in an Iowa high school. Registration for the program is open through December 19.

To learn more or enter the giveaway, go to

Volunteer Hall of Fame nominations
Through December 1, the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service is accepting nominations for the 2015 Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame. Any Iowa individual, national service member, group or business actively engaged in voluntary service may be nominated. Details and nomination materials are online at

How to Contact Me

Joe Bolkcom
728 2nd Avenue
Iowa City, IA 52245

About The Networker

The Networker provides brief summaries of some of the things that I am working on, the work of the General Assembly, and political perspectives on issues. I also use it to announce meetings and how to find useful information about state government.

Additional information

Senator Joe Bolkcom is an Assistant Majority Leader and chair of the Ways & Means Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Commerce, Environment & Energy Independence, Human Resources, and Natural Resources committees.