2018 Session wraps up with $749 million spending bill



District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

I am running a little behind schedule this week as I normally get my newsletter out on Thursday morning and here it is Friday and I am just getting to it. We are definitely in the last week of the session, which is crunch time for budget chairs. The budget bills are traditionally the last items of business that the Legislature approves prior to adjournment. I have spent most of my week going back and forth between the House and the Senate negotiating the final details of the Justice Systems budget. While we share very similar priorities with the Senate, putting the final touches on a $749 million spending bill is a very involved process.

The process was a little more complicated this year because of the lack of a joint spending target between the two chambers. The gap between our spending targets was pretty narrow so our House committee completed our budget, passed it through the Appropriations Committee, passed it off the floor and sent it to the Senate. Just about the time our bill was running on the House floor an agreement was reached on the final target. We passed our bill as it was, sent it to the Senate and I immediately began talks with my Senate counterpart to make the changes necessary to meet the final target and iron out the small differences in our priorities. While the process is not complicated, it is time consuming. We, as chairmen, would meet and make adjustments, those adjustments would then go to the fiscal analysts who would develop new spreadsheets, the spreadsheets would come back to our committees for consensus, the content of the spreadsheets would then go to the bill drafters who would draw up an amendment to the bill, after which it would come back to us for analysis by myself and staff. It’s common to make modifications to the draft as it is almost impossible to get all of the finer points of legislation communicated to the drafters on the first attempt. With the amendment finalized the bill went to the Senate floor where it was attached to the bill and the bill was approved as amended and the Senate sent it back to the House for us to approve the amendment. It is now on the Governor’s desk for her signature.

As I mentioned earlier, the bill appropriates just over $748 million dollars to the departments within our budget. The Department of Corrections is the largest segment of this budget, consuming nearly $382 million, the Court system requires $178 million, and the Department of Public Safety is at just under $100 million. These three departments represent over 88% of the total which makes the process look simple but in total there are 49 individual line items in the budget that range from $28,000 to $64 million.

Justice Systems is the third largest bill in the budget, the Education budget is nearly $4 billion when Supplemental State Aid for our K-12 schools is included, and the Health and Human Services budget is over $1.8 billion and the complexity and diligence required for their completion is in direct proportion to their size.

This will be my last newsletter for the session. Every year I swear that I will write an end of session summary of the session’s accomplishments and every year I come home from Des Moines, get in a tractor and by the time the crop is in the ground, I have lost my motivation. We have had another successful session but it is time to come home to family and farm and recharge my connection to the real world of the friendly and hardworking citizens of the 11th District.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve as your Representative in the Iowa Legislature and I look forward to listening to your ideas and concerns as we look forward to next year and another session of the Iowa General Assembly.