Legislature working budget to minimize tax impact

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE GARY WORTHAN

District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

Throughout this session we have had the sounds of construction as a constant undertone to the normal work that occurs here. Just prior to last year’s session it was determined that the brick work that supports the dome was deteriorating and was in dire need of replacement. The Legislature appropriated $10 million for the project last session and the work began last fall. It is a painstaking process as temporary supports for the dome need to be constructed so that the workers can then break out small sections of the old brick and lay in new brick before moving on to the next section. As a result the dome has been closed to the public and will remain so until the project is finished sometime this fall. If you want a piece of history, the bricks that have been removed along with a medallion of authenticity are available for sale in the Capitol gift shop.

The process of repairing the dome brick by brick holds a striking resemblance to the process of putting the final touches on the budget. Negotiations are progressing piece by piece, dollar by dollar as we put together a tax reform and spending plan for Fiscal Year 2019.  At this point it looks like adjournment may come during the first week of May.

This is the busiest time of the session for the chairs of the budget subcommittees. We are given a targeted amount of funds to be distributed among the various departments under our purview to finance their operations for the fiscal year. We are still in tight budget times in that; while revenues are increasing they are not increasing as fast as expenses. As a result each budget committee must prioritize and propose a budget that will meet the needs of the state. It is then the responsibility of the budget committee chairman to find common ground with our Senate counterparts and the Governor’s office.

In my position as chairman of the Justice Systems Budget Subcommittee I am responsible for the appropriation of $750 million that funds the state’s court system, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections, the Attorney General, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Parole Board and several smaller departments. Our $750 million appropriation for FY 19 will be adequate to maintain current services and staffing levels throughout the departments under the Justice Systems budget. This is not the case across the entire budget as priority decisions were made earlier in the session in order to get to this point.

We, as legislators, have to look at the entirety of the budget as we put these numbers together.  Early in the session there was a lot of criticism that the one percent increase in Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for K-12 schools was inadequate. That was a forward looking decision that is reflected in the budgets that we are now working on. If we had set SSA at a higher level, today I would be looking at a budget that would require layoffs in the Highway Patrol and in the prison system. Also, the courts would have had to determine how many District Court Judge positions would remain unfilled and whether to go to part time Clerks of Court offices across the state.

As one of a couple of dozen legislators who are responsible to appropriate a $7.3 billion budget I constantly remind myself that I cannot become parochial and concentrate on my committee’s ten percent of the budget to the exclusion of all else. While I am a vocal advocate for the needs of the people who are served by those departments under my budget I also must be cognizant of the needs all across the budget.

Brick by brick, dollar by dollar, just as the workmen repair the Capitol dome, the Legislature, with all due diligence, will put together a budget that meets the needs of the state while minimizing  the impact of taxes.