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Legislative update from Rep. Sharon Steckman

From Rep. Sharon Steckman of Mason City –

First: I realize that most of my reporting this year may seem more negative than in other years. I am writing from my perspective and feel that much of the major pieces of legislation we have done this year will not be helpful to my constituents. I am always hopeful that this body can do much more to help hard working Iowans.

Case in point: the governor has again revised his budget downward. While the two legislative chambers are well into their tasks of developing their own spending plans, the governor’s aims will certainly be influential in the process. The biggest reductions fall in health and human services funding which faces a decrease of $86.2 million. Proposed education spending will decline by $58.4 million with the regent universities absorbing $12.1 million of that figure. Also proposed is an $18.85 million cut to the Iowa Skilled Worker and Job Creation Fund that is administered through community colleges and state universities.

Today (Friday, March 31) the majority party in the House and the Senate stated that their targets will be even lower with more cuts.

State Senator Rob Hogg in Mason City

I would like to quote Senator Robert Hogg of Cedar Rapids: “These are basic investments that the state needs to make for our future.” Echoing his thoughts, I have to say that these are programs that help families lift themselves up and that provide the skilled workers that our employers across the state badly need.

This is the week that we discussed, in committees and on the floor, bills that had been passed by the Senate and require approval by the House – most of which were non-controversial and provided tweaks to current law. This completes the second funnel week which narrows down the number of bills still eligible.

I am glad to report that lawmakers are working on several initiatives to combat opioid and heroin overdoses which have risen dramatically over the past few years.

A newspaper investigation turned up the secret agreement that Governor Branstad made with the three for-profit companies running the state’s Medicaid program. Their stated losses will be covered by the state and the federal government to the tune of $10 million and over $200 million, respectively.

Senator Ragan and I plan to hold one more forum before the end of the session. We have not been able to confirm the date yet, so please watch this space. As always, I welcome your thoughts and concerns.

Deficit Forces Governor to Update Budget Recommendations

According to new budget documents released this week, Governor Branstad is recommending the state borrow from their savings accounts to cover for a $131 million state budget deficit this year.

When the state’s non-partisan budget experts met in mid-March, lawmakers learned the Republican Majority and the Branstad-Reynolds administration have turned a $927 million state surplus (FY 13) into a $130 million deficit this year (FY 17).

While Republican lawmakers were quick to blame others instead of taking responsibility, the state budget is in a deficit this year because Republican leaders in Des Moines failed to adequately manage the state budget. Earlier this year, the state faced another $110 million deficit and Republican leaders forced Iowa students and working families to pay for the shortfall to keep the budget in balance.

The state budget deficit is largely the result of new corporate tax giveaways that have increased exponentially and now top $500 million annually. According to state experts, those giveaways have not produced the economic growth Republicans promised and instead, have slowed the state’s economy. For the last three years, Republican lawmakers have also spent more than the state collected and used one-time money to fund on-going needs.

The lack of fiscal discipline by Republican lawmakers and the Branstad-Reynolds administration over the last several years creates significant challenges for the 2018 state budget. The budget documents provided by the Governor also include recommendations for further cuts next year to Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens – seniors, the disabled, and children.

House Democrats plan to work to restore fiscal discipline to the state’s budget-making process, and ensure Iowans no longer have to pay for the GOP’s excessive giveaways. Fiscal discipline is both what the state can afford and where those dollars are invested. The state budget needs to be re-balanced to prioritize people before corporate welfare, and a skilled workforce over top-down economics.

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