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The 86th General Assembly came to a close at 6:10 PM on Friday, April 29. Much of what we do in the state legislature boils down to the last weeks when legislators must agree on how the state will spend taxpayer dollars. Every legislator and each of our 60,000+ constituents have programs and causes that are very important to them. The end result is an annual tug of war over a limited amount of money that we all wish could spread farther than it ever will.
House and Senate leadership agreed on the overall size of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, spending nearly $7.351 billion for FY 2017. This is an increase of about $175 million above the current FY 2016 budget. Almost all of this increase will go to PK-12 education funding, providing our schools an increase of 2.25 percent in supplemental state aid. Most other state department will have status quo funding for FY 17, while some departments are receiving actual cuts to their budgets this year.
While the increase of 2.4% increase in this year’s budget compared to last year’s seems reasonable, over the last four years state government spending has grown by over $1.2 billion. Most of the additional spending goes to education funding and Medicaid, with property tax backfill also a significant cost to the state. The rate at which government spending has increased over the last several years far exceeds the growth in Iowa family budgets. In addition, our surplus which reached a high of $927 million in FY 2013, is estimated to be under $80 million at the end of the current budget year, FY 2016. The rate at which we are spending is unsustainable, and is more than Iowans who pay the bill for government can afford. Next year the legislature must find ways to control state spending. We have no surplus left. I find it interesting that those who are always advocating for more spending never have the courage to advocate for higher taxes.
One of the most difficult budget bills this year was the Health and Human Services (HHS) bill because that includes around $3 million for “family planning services.” Historically, most of that tax money is captured by organizations that provide abortions, which many Iowans find offensive. In the end, attempts failed to redirect those funds to the 213 facilities that provide services to women, facilities like “federally qualified health centers” and rural health centers scattered across the state. This means that most of that money will still flow to the 13 Planned Parenthood locations, all in the urban areas of the state, while many rural Iowans will not have access to those family planning dollars in their own community.
One positive change to the HHS budget was raising the tax credit for families that adopt children from $2500 to $5000. The Human Services budget also included a Medicaid oversight plan with an additional long-term care ombudsman and data reporting as the transition to managed-care moves forward.
Of course this is an election year. As a candidate for my second term in the Iowa Senate I pledge to continue my efforts to keep state spending and regulation under control, encourage economic development in Iowa, and set policy that strengthens Iowa families. I will also continue my work to address water quality concerns. I believe this issue requires an honest assessment of water quality (it’s much better than some would have us believe), and I believe that the financial resources we commit to water quality must be carefully targeted.
It is an honor to serve the constituents in Senate district 40. Please contact me any time with questions or concerns.
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