House passes several budget bills, but that doesn’t mean they’ve struck a deal

By: - May 6, 2021 11:51 pm

The Iowa Statehouse. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

House lawmakers on Thursday passed budget proposals on agriculture, infrastructure, economic development and education. But House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said the Senate and Gov. Kim Reynolds have not agreed to the bills.

“We’ve just decided it’s time to get those moving through the process,” Grassley said, noting that the 100-member House takes longer to debate bills than the 50-member Senate.

House budget numbers

  • Infrastructure: $121.9 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund and the Technology Reinvestment Fund 
  • Agriculture and Natural Resources: $147.6 million, $54.8 million from the general fund and $92.8 million from other funds
  • Economic Development: $77.8 million, $49.7 million from the general fund and $28.1 million from other funds
  • Education: $1.01 billion, $970 million from the general fund and $40.3 million from the Skilled Worker and Job Creation Fund. An amendment Thursday night shifted some community college funds.

The education budget generated the most controversy on the floor. 

The House proposal would appropriate no additional funds to the Regents universities and impose a tuition freeze. Lawmakers amended the bill Thursday to establish an interim study committee on administrative expenses, graduation rates and student retention rates at public colleges. The bill would also prohibit the Regents universities from cutting campus police department budgets.

The House voted 51-37 to pass the education budget.

“The next step that I’m looking forward to is negotiating a budget — the final budget — with the Senate,” said Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, who led debate on the bill.

Democrats proposed an amendment to the budget that would appropriate $15 million to the Board of Regents, replenishing a previous budget cut and providing additional funds that could go toward public universities. Kerr noted that the Regents universities had received millions in federal COVID-19 funds.

“Investing in higher education is a gift that keeps on giving,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. “Because it stimulates the economy and strengthens our communities and gives us the opportunity for a safe community for all that live there.”

The amendment failed along party lines. Several other amendments also failed on the floor.

“I expected more,” said Rep. Sue Cahill, a freshman member from Marshalltown. “I expected we would work together and find some common ground.”

Lawmakers must agree on a state budget before adjourning for the year. Senate and House Republicans sparred this week over a tax proposal. The Senate has adjourned for the week.

There was one just budget wrapped up Thursday: The House unanimously passed a transportation budget proposed by the Senate, sending it to Reynolds for consideration. It appropriates nearly $400 million for the maintenance of roads and rest areas.

Grassley said debating the budgets Thursday was meant to show Iowans “what the priorities have been within our budgeting process.”

Democrats disagreed, arguing that the hours of debate were a waste of time without agreements with the Senate and the governor.

“These bills that we are doing today and tomorrow is the same thing as playing Monopoly with my 10-year-old,” Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, said. “They don’t mean anything.”

Ban on the concepts formerly known as ‘divisive’ heads to governor 

The House passed an amended version of House File 802, a bill that prohibits schools and governmental agencies from teaching some concepts, including the ideas that Iowa is inherently or systemically racist or sexist, or that an individual might be inherently racist or sexist due to their race or sex.

The Senate amended the bill to remove the phrase “divisive concepts” and to make it more clear that schools may still teach about sexism, racism, slavery and the disparate impact of certain laws on different groups.

“We don’t have to use racism to teach against racism… We don’t have to teach that the United States of America or the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist in 2021,” said Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison.

House lawmakers voted 53-35 to pass the legislation, sending it to Reynolds’ desk.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.