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An ‘Aha!’ moment


The Iowa Legislature is having one of those “Aha!” moments, proving that good discussions can flow from bad ideas. A proposal from some Senate Republicans to exempt Iowans under 30 from state income taxes was met with skepticism and guffaws and it thankfully went away quickly, leaving the lingering question: If not that, then what?

In ever-increasing numbers – from the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Young Professionals Connection, to the Young Des Moines Social Club, to Impact Downtown, to United Way of Central Iowa’s Emerging Leaders Program, to the Young Professionals of Iowa – young Iowans are stepping forward with some answers. For one thing, the availability of high-paying jobs in exciting, cutting-edge industries would help tip the balance in Iowa’s favor for job-seeking young people. And quality of life is important, measured not only by the number of cultural attractions in the state, but also by the quality of its schools, the cleanliness of its rivers, streams and lakes, the purity of its air and other intangibles.

But as much as anything, we should shift attention away from the negative “brain drain” and its subtle implication that all the smart, hip young people have fled Iowa, leaving only the mediocre to fill employment and leadership gaps, and toward the more positive “brain gain.” The YPI, which coined the slogan, argues that focusing attention on the young people who have left the state sends such a negative message to their peers that it helps reinforce that trend.

Of course, the Legislature shouldn’t abandon the search for solutions to stem the exodus of young Iowans from the state. There are no overnight solutions and it will take years to correct the problem. In the meantime, though, it’s gratifying that legislators appear to be listening to their younger constituents, as if it has finally occurred to them that instead of moving forward with what they think are good deeds for young people, they should first ask them if an idea, such as the income-tax proposal, is a keeper or a throw-away.

The real challenge, of course, is to extend young Iowans’ involvement in the policymaking process beyond the moment and a clear a place for them at the leadership table. The above-mentioned groups’ membership rosters should be the first stop for political organizations looking for candidates for local and state office. Young Iowans are ready to serve, and they offer a previously untapped reservoir of ideas to make the state a place their peers will appreciate.

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