Legislature turns to budget woes



District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

This week the Legislature is making the turn from policy to budget. The last few policy bills are coming to the floor. Some are small bills that needed minor modifications. Some are code clean up bills and department omnibus bills that are several pages in length with many actions, none of which are substantial, but still require a lot of time and effort to make sure they are correct. 

The first of these two bills is the “Sanctuary City” bill.  I discussed this bill at length in this column a couple of weeks ago as it came through the Public Safety committee, of which I am a member. The response from the district has been gratifying, to say the least. It is aggravating that one Iowa community would hold itself out to be above the law. The collateral damage of the sanctuary city bill that would bring them back in line outweighs its benefits. 

The second of the pending major policy bills is known as the “Heartbeat Bill.” This bill would ban an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, this normally occurs from six to eight weeks after conception. The bill has been re-written in the House in order to maintain the twenty week ban that passed last year, should the heartbeat standard be rejected by the courts. One of the goals of this bill is to create a challenge to the 1972 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.  With the advances in medicine and neonatal care in the last 45 years, many feel that it is time to revisit the question of when life begins. Response from the district has been passionate on both sides of this issue and again, the fact that it has not been brought to the floor indicates that the vote count is very close.

This will be another tough budgeting year. Revenue to the state continues to grow but that rate is below the rate of growth of our built in increases. The federal government mandates that we absorb nearly half of the increase in Medicaid costs every year. That amount is over $60 million for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19). That number would be considerably higher had we not switched to managed care a couple of years ago. Negotiated salary increases are near $90 million per year.

In January we committed $32 million in new spending for our K-12 school system along with a new $14 million to equalize transportation costs. With a revenue increase in the mid $200 million range, we don’t have a lot of room for adjustments in any budget area. Complicating the process are the tax changes made at the federal level late last year. The effects on Iowa’s revenue stream are dramatic while also being very hard to predict accurately.  As a result, we intend to budget very conservatively as we adapt our tax code to maintain revenue without reaching deeper into the pockets of Iowans.