Iowa budget: Lawmakers propose additional funding for Glenwood issues, plan for tax cuts

By: - February 22, 2022 6:01 pm

Melting snow on the steps of the Iowa State Capitol. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Republican lawmakers have kicked off the state budgeting process, setting spending targets as negotiations continue on significant tax cut proposals.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and GOP leaders in the House and Senate proposed budgets that would spend about 90% of the money that the state brings in – about $8.2 billion of the $9 billion available for spending.

House Republicans proposed a 1.83% overall increase in spending, which amounts to $149 million over the previous fiscal year. The state would spend a total of $8.27 billion from its general fund in fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1.

“We feel at this particular time, this is the plan that the House needs to proceed with: (one) that we can afford, that is sustainable over the long run and gets the job done,” said Rep. Gary Mohr, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Senate proposed a budget of $8.2 million, the same top-line number as Gov. Kim Reynolds. The Senate plan would include a net increase in spending of $76.8 million, which would be 0.9% more than the current year.

“I think it’s a budget that does what I’ve said for a long time, which is allow us enough room to continue to invest in priorities while continuing to work on the tax reforms that we’ve been doing,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls said the Republican budget proposals were insufficient to fund state programs.

“There’s a lot of talk about wanting to return tax dollars to Iowans,” Wahls, D-Coralville said. “I think the best way to do that is to invest in the essential services that our state needs.”

The actual 2023 budget is still a work in progress, as lawmakers will decide in the coming months exactly how to appropriate funds to various state agencies and programs. Lawmakers must reach an agreement on the budget before ending the 2022 legislative session.

“It will go like it does every year,” Mohr, R-Bettendorf, said. “The House will pass its bill, the Senate will pass its bill, and at some point, we will come to an agreement.”

House proposes additional funding to rectify Glenwood issues

The House budget would increase the Health and Human Services budget by $53 million, Mohr said, including about $25 million in response to issues at the Glenwood Resource Center.

Glenwood, a facility for people with intellectual disabilities located in southwest Iowa, was the subject of a Department of Justice investigation in 2020 after years of alleged abuse. Federal inspectors found residents were the subjects of unethical experiments and received inadequate medical care.

Mohr said the new appropriation would go toward “rectifying those situations.”

“Roughly half of that increase is going to that (Department of Justice) investigation, to solve those problems,” he said, though he did not provide details about what exactly the money would be used for.

A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services (DHS) said the $25 million would go toward initiatives across the state to care for individuals within their communities, rather than in a facility like Glenwood.

“Although we do not yet have a draft consent decree from DOJ on the second part of the investigation, we know it will also require a large investment in community integration,” DHS spokesperson Alex Carfrae said in a statement. “Director (Kelly) Garcia​ has had multiple discussions with legislators regarding ​their specific target of $25M investment in community capacity.”

Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, did not respond to questions about the Senate budget targets for Health and Human Services.

Board of Regents funding uncertain after 2020 cut, 2021 status quo

It’s been a rocky few years for lawmakers and the Board of Regents, the governing body for Iowa’s public universities, the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

In 2020, the Legislature passed a Board of Regents budget cut, decreasing funding by $8 million. Lawmakers declined in 2021 to restore that budget cut or increase Board of Regents funding.

The Board of Regents raised tuition for the three state universities.

This year, the House proposed an additional $31 million for higher education. Mohr said it’s up to lawmakers to decide how to divide that money among community colleges and Regents’ institutions.

“We’re asking our budget subcommittees to decide exactly how much would go to community colleges, how much would go to the Board of Regents, how much would go to the Iowa State School for the Deaf and so forth,” Mohr said. “We’re leaving that to them.”

Reynolds proposed a $14.8 million increase to the Board of Regents for fiscal year 2023. The Board of Regents requested $22 million for Iowa’s public universities. 

Spokesperson Josh Lehman said Tuesday the Board of Regents is “actively engaged in regular conversations” with lawmakers. 

“The Regent universities are economic engines for the entire state of Iowa, and investment in our institutions benefits everyone,” Lehman said in a statement.

What comes next?

Lawmakers in the House and Senate will need to agree on a budget before ending the 2022 legislative session. But leaders in both parties said things are moving quickly so far.

Whitver credited the state’s strong financial position as the reason lawmakers are moving fast.

“We know where we want to be with the budget, and we are not going to come anywhere close to the statutory limit of how much we can spend,” Whitver said. “That’s a positive thing, that we can start the budget conversation earlier.”

In 2021, lawmakers released their budget targets in late March. Mohr said they were “ahead of the game” this year.

“I’m always hesitant to say this: There’s every reason we ought to be able to be on schedule or ahead of schedule,” Mohr said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the Department of Human Services’ plans for the proposed $25 million increase.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie 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.