The State Capitol in Des Moines. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
An Iowa Senate panel, in a daylong session, advanced 10 budget bills Wednesday after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations among GOP legislative leaders and the governor.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and House Republicans had proposed to spend about $8.2 billion from the state general fund for the 2023 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022. The House passed nine budget bills last month, which have been awaiting Senate action.
Republican senators proposed to spend about $70 million less, and negotiations have been stalled over policy differences between the chambers.
Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee said Wednesday they had reached agreement with the House on most of the bills, which were amended in committee. Both chambers are expected to be back in the Capitol next week to start working toward adjournment, more than four weeks after the 100-day session was scheduled to end.
Lawmakers still debating money for Glenwood transition
Some budget issues remained unresolved Wednesday. For example, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, asked how the state would pay for community-based services needed to house residents of the Glenwood Resource Center, which is scheduled to close in 2024.
The state-run facility for people with disabilities has operated under a shadow after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation in 2019 and 2020 found that staff at the center failed to provide adequate medical care and abused and performed experiments on residents.
Some residents will move to the Woodward Resource Center, but others are expected to find “community placements,” under the plan announced by the Department of Human Services.
“So there is going to be a transition cost here. And community providers will need to be built up and strengthened. And so I believe there will be money in there for that, a substantial amount, one way or another,” Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, said.
He said lawmakers were still working out whether the money would come from the general fund or federal dollars the governor can access.
Bolkcom said he recognizes that Reynolds still has access to millions in federal American Rescue Plan dollars, but cautioned that money will run out in a couple of years. “So I think … the committee is setting itself up, I think, for a pretty substantial cliff in two years by saying, ‘Well, we’re not going to fund it this year, we’ll let the governor fund it.’ And at some point, the cows are going to come home.”
Education budget still unresolved
Republican lawmakers said they were also still negotiating the nearly $1 billion education budget. One of the major disagreements between the House and Senate is over the governor’s proposed private school scholarships.
The panel forwarded the House bill on a party-line vote without amendments, with changes expected on the floor. The House approved a flat budget for the state universities for the third year in a row. Instead, the House introduced a $12 million scholarship fund to be split between teacher training and students pursuing high-demand jobs.
“We have been starving colleges and universities for at least a decade, and there is no increased funding for Iowa public universities in this budget,” said Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City. “As we all realize as state support goes down, tuition goes up. So we are shifting the financial burden to Iowa students and families and I think that is the wrong way.”
Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said there are programs that support all students to pursue a post-secondary education such as the Future Ready Iowa Program and student loan repayment programs. Cournoyer said these programs also create incentives for people to move to Iowa and reside in the state.
“The data shows that those programs are working especially at getting high-need occupations into those rural areas, so I am going to continue to advocate for that,” Cournoyer said.
Senate bill trims environmental budgets
One of the bills that House and Senate Republicans have agreed upon will fund agriculture and natural resources programs. The committee, voting along party lines, approved House File 2560, a $42 million budget. That’s a cut of about $6 million cut over the current year and about $12 million less than the House approved this year.
Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said the Department of Natural Resources is already underfunded and the state is facing severe water quality problems.
“We have absolutely no plan to protect our state agriculture system and our water, and everyone from climate change,” Celsi said. “I know we never talk about that here but I really just want to say that we are going to be caught unprepared. We are unprepared for what is coming, for what is already here.”
Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, served as the floor manager of the bill. He said the arguments by the minority party aren’t anything new and there are hundreds of millions of dollars already allocated to these programs at the federal level.
Democrats protest lack of public discussion
Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee voted against most of the bills, which some said were developed without enough deliberation or public input. The Senate did not hold joint appropriations subcommittee meetings with the House.
“Yeah, I’ve been here 20 years and this is probably the least amount of meetings we’ve ever had,” except during the pandemic last year, Rep. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, said.
Costello acknowledged that “there’s a certain amount that we miss” by not holding joint budget meetings with the House. But, he said, “on the other hand, we can get more discussed quickly, more quickly, with fewer people.”
— Editor Kathie Obradovich contributed to this report.
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