School aid passes

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE GARY WORTHAN

District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

This morning, Wednesday, Feb. 7 the House passed the school aid bill for the 2018-19 school year. This bill will increase funding to our K-12 public system by $32 million. The bill was sent to the Senate where they began debate late this afternoon. The Senate has amended the bill by adding language dealing with district per pupil costs. Representatives Dolechek and Rogers, chairmen of the Education Appropriation Committee and the Education Committee respectively, along with staff are currently reviewing the Senate amendment and will have recommendations tomorrow. I would anticipate that we will take up the Senate amendment, and either reject or approve it before we adjourn for the week. The bill addressing schools, whose transportation costs are at the high end of the spectrum, will be considered later after we deal with a more pressing issue.

The next issue we will take up will be balancing the FY 18 budget. The FY 18 budget year ends on June 30th so there are only a short five months left in the budget year. Incoming revenue has been running slightly behind the forecasts that the FY 18 budget was based on, requiring us to reduce spending by approximately $40 million, to meet the constitutional mandate of ending the fiscal year with a positive balance.  This reduction equates to just over one half of one percent of the State’s total budget. One of the Governor’s primary goals was to hold harmless our K-12 schools and as they constitute about 43% of our total spending, we will need to reduce spending throughout the rest of the budget just under one percent. Through my conversations with the departments funded under the Justice Systems budget, which I chair in the House, I am comfortable that a reduction of this size is manageable without layoffs or reduction of services. A proposed budget released last week calling for cuts in the range of three to four percent caused a lot of consternation all across state government.  I am confident that we can reach a compromise and send a bill to the Governor that will maintain services, avoid layoffs and meet our constitutional mandate of a balanced budget.

Once we have the FY 18 budget finished, we will immediately start work on the budget for FY 19 which begins on July 1st. Revenue for FY 19 is currently estimated to be up nearly 4% but that is tempered by the fact that incoming revenue has been overestimated for each of the last four years.  In light of that fact we are looking at budgeting something less than the limit of 99% of the revenue estimate. Adding to our caution is the fact that Medicaid expenses are projected to increase $60 million. Also we must replenish the economic emergency fund with just over $90 million, and we have already increased education spending by $32 million in the school aid bill mentioned above.

As we begin to put together a spending plan for FY 19, some priorities House Republicans have identified include community colleges as they will be the source for workers with the special skills needed to grow our economy.  The Department of Public Safety, where the number of Highway Patrolmen and Division of Criminal Investigation agents are nearing all-time lows, and the State Crime Lab where the backlog of cases is reaching an unacceptable level. The judicial system will also receive attention in order to replace judges who have retired, and to bolster the numbers of juvenile court officers. While we have one of the most efficient Department of Corrections in the nation, we believe that they are also at a tipping point where further reductions will affect safety and the success of their rehabilitation programs.

I would liken the budget process to constructing a large multi-level, multi-faceted puzzle.  The first thing that must be determined is how large will the puzzle be?  Once that is determined, each of the seven budget chairs is assigned a section of the puzzle and they must fit all of their department needs within their section of the puzzle. In the Justice Systems budget, in my case, I must fit all of the following departments into my assigned section of the puzzle: Department of Public Safety, Attorney General, Department of Corrections, Judicial System, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, National Guard, Parole Board, Civil Rights, Public Defender, and Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning. Each of my fellow budget chairs have similar challenges.  Once we have each constructed our sections and have assembled them into a completed puzzle, it is presented to the House and the process of trimming some of the puzzle pieces and expanding others begins.  The result is a tightly constructed, well planned budget that fits within the parameters defined at the outset of the project.

Please join me at my upcoming forums:

Feb. 17, at 10 a.m. at King’s Pointe in Storm Lake.

March 17, at 10 a.m. at King’s Pointe in Storm Lake.