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It was a very busy week at the Capitol, with a lot of local visitors among the more than 1500 people who came through the public entrances on Tuesday alone. I was able to spend some time with the Oskaloosa and North Mahaska FFA chapters, along with the fourth grade class of the Oskaloosa Christian School. In addition, there were a number of Senate District 40 visitors from Oskaloosa, Albia, Centerville and Pella to discuss conservation, transportation and education funding for the next fiscal year.
On Wednesday afternoon we on the Senate Appropriations committee got our first look at the next budget year as presented by the staff of the LSA (Legislative Services Agency). Net state receipts for FY 2016 are projected at $7.19 billion, which is an increase of $337 million (5%) over FY 2015. The three big budget items of education, Medicaid and property tax backfill will continue to dominate budget discussions.
This week the House voted for a Supplemental State Aid increase of 1.25%, matching the Governor’s budget proposal. The Senate has not drafted a bill to set Supplemental State Aid, so we will be working from the House bill, and I anticipate an amendment offered by Senate Democrats to set the rate of state aid much higher than the 1.25% in the House bill. From there, the bill will likely go to conference committee, and a reasonable compromise will be reached. I will also be promoting a quick passage of the bill so our school districts can begin working on their budgets. I hope that we can reach a compromise that will produce the best education for our children while at the same time being fiscally responsible. Please keep in mind that the 1.25% increase along with new money from the education reform commitments pumps over $90 million of new money into education. The 6% increase that some are proposing is not possible.
Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey presented his budget request to the Ag and Natural Resources budget sub-committee on Tuesday. The notable feature of Secretary Northey’s budget is that it is level with current funding for all IDALS programs with the one exception. The exception is a request by the secretary for an additional $3.85 million for water quality initiatives. His request reflects his commitment to spending state resources in a frugal way while still getting the job done. Secretary Northey’s efforts stand in stark contrast to other budget requests that demand substantial budget increases every year.
One of the housekeeping duties as we begin this legislative session is to review and adopt the Senate rules that will guide us the next two years. Senate Republicans asked that the majority party allow a constitutional majority – meaning 26 Senators – to bring bills out of committee and to the Senate floor for debate. The request was denied on a party line vote with all Democrats blocking the request. This means that only those bills that the Democrat leadership allows will be openly debated and voted on the floor of the Iowa Senate. And I believe that flies in the face of what Iowans expect from our system of government. Disappointing!
The good news is that we are always accessible to you if you wish to visit, call or e-mail us. Please exercise your rights by staying informed on the issues, and communicating with those of us that have the honor of representing you.
Senator Ken Rozenboom
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