Capital Clicks

Mental health funding bill advances in back-to-back meetings

By: - April 1, 2021 2:23 pm

The Iowa Senate is considering legislation to shift mental health funding away from property taxes.

A wide-ranging tax bill that includes a shift in mental health funding moved through back-to-back meetings on Thursday morning, marking the proposal eligible for floor debate.

Senate File 587 would change how Iowa funds mental health services, accelerate income tax cuts and reduce tax breaks for preserved forest land. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 12-8 to advance the legislation. 

Thursday’s meetings centered around the mental health division of the bill. If passed, mental health services would draw funds from state appropriations rather than county property taxes. GOP spokesperson Caleb Hunter said it would shift $60 million in fiscal year 2022 and then $125 million in fiscal year 2023.

Critics of the legislation argued that the lawmakers would fail to adequately fund the program in future years.

“Mental health care providers and advocates will have to beg for funding like everybody else that comes into this building has to beg for money,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City.

Leslie Carpenter, a lobbyist for Iowa Mental Health Advocacy, said she appreciated the intent of the bill but worried the state could cut appropriations to mental health services.

“One of my concerns is that the state has (been) supposed to, in the past, provide some backfill to mental health services, but they haven’t done that very consistently,” she said. “So I’m concerned about having all of the funding go away from property taxes to state funding.”

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said the program would ultimately result in more funds for mental health services.

“This bill puts more money into mental health,” he said. “It doesn’t take money out of mental health.”

The bill is eligible for floor debate in the Senate. Because it deals with state funding, the bill will not be affected by Friday’s funnel deadline.

However, its future remains uncertain. House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, has expressed reservations about how a state-funded system would be governed. He said Thursday lawmakers also would need to address the fact that different mental health regions offer different services.

“So it’s a much deeper conversation than that, that I think that the Legislature, if we’re going to engage in it, it can’t just be the conversation of the money, it has to be the conversation of the services, because ultimately, that’s what this is about,” Grassley said.

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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.