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Upmeyer: “We have fundamentally changed the culture of state government budgeting”

From Rep. Linda Upmeyer:

With the conclusion of the 2012 legislative session, I think it is important to reflect on some of this year’s successes and disappointments.

Since taking control of the House, we have fundamentally changed the culture of state government budgeting. I am proud that throughout the budget process, we stood by our core principles to not spend more than we take in, not use one-time money for ongoing expenses, and not intentionally underfund our commitments to the state in order to balance the budget. Iowans can be certain that the days of budget rollercoaster rides are over.

The final FY13 budget spends less than we did under the previous administration. In fact, in FY11 the state was spending 118% of available revenue. In FY12 we reduced that to 93% and FY13’s budget will be reduced to spending 95% of available revenue.

Additionally, we inherited a $900 million spending gap when we took control. That spending gap has now become $624 million in reserves. There is a $300 million ending balance and there will be $90 million in the Taxpayer Trust Fund created by us. When combined, this totals $390 million that should be returned to the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa through broad-based tax relief.

One of the other major accomplishments of the 2012 session was the redesign of Iowa’s mental health system. Advocates, providers, and officials have long called for the state to change the system so that Iowans could get the same level of service, no matter where they lived. They have also asked that we stop using the arcane system of “legal settlement” to determine who is responsible for paying for services.

Senate File 2315 implements these changes beginning July 1, 2013, and encourages counties to work together to administer their system. The legislation is similar to efforts led by a group from Cerro Gordo County that have been doing this for several years. The state will assume responsibility for covering the cost of Medicaid-funded services while also developing a sub-acute level of mental health care to reduce the reliance on state mental health institutes and hospital psych units.

While full implementation will take several years and we will carefully monitor the process, the steps taken in 2012 will provide a substantial improvement to Iowa’s mental health delivery system for consumers, providers, and taxpayers.

It was unfortunate that an agreement was not reached this year to provide significant property tax relief to all Iowans. The House sent four different, mostly bi-partisan, versions of property tax relief proposals to the Senate that would benefit all classes of property taxpayers.

It was concerning that the bulk of the Senate Majority Party’s property tax relief plan centered only on providing additional tax credits to a certain number of Iowans. Tax credits are beneficial only if they are properly funded. We fought to fully fund existing property tax credits this year, but the Senate refused to do so. Therefore, we were not confident that any new tax credits would be properly funded. Simply increasing the amount of available tax credits without having the means to fund them is not what Iowans had in mind when asking us to provide them with significant property tax relief.

We were also very interested in implementing bold education reform this year, but again ran into roadblocks in the Senate. There seemed to be little interest in tackling important issues surrounding improving our education system. For instance, we fought to eliminate a policy commonly referred to as “Last In First Out” or LIFO. This flawed policy requires that when layoffs are necessary, schools only consider a teacher’s seniority, rather than a teacher’s effectiveness and impact on student achievement. Our schools need to focus on retaining great teachers in our classroom, rather than the number of years someone has been employed by the school district.

You can be certain that we will continue to work on these priority issues during the interim and be ready to lead again in January. As always, please feel free to contact me anytime with the issues you care about at linda.upmeyer@legis.state.ia.us or 515-281-4618.

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