Legislative Updates-Week 2 January 20, 2011
As week two of the 2011 Iowa General Assembly concludes, the political process is now fully engaged. In this process, before a bill becomes law it is assigned to a committee for review, research, and approval before it goes to the full House and Senate for debate and a final vote. If passed by both Chambers, the Governor must then sign the bill before it becomes law. Information on all the bills, amendments, and floor action can be found on the Iowa General Assembly web at: www.legis.iowa.gov
House Approves Taxpayers First Act On January 19th, the Iowa House approved House File 45 (HF 45), also known as the Taxpayers First Act. This bill helps fulfill one of the House Republicans campaign promises to reduce state spending, reduce the size of government, put the taxpayer first, and spend no more than it takes in. The bill reduces state spending by almost $500 million over three fiscal years and sets the stage for eliminating approximately $700 million from the general fund spending gap for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. HF 45 creates the Tax Relief Fund (TRF). House Republicans believe all unused taxes collected should not be used for additional spending but should be returned to the taxpayer who created the positive ending balance. For example, this would mean over $300 million would be returned to the taxpayers in FY2012. Furthermore, HF 45 provides two supplemental appropriations. It appropriates $25 million to eliminate an 18 month Mental Health wait list and begins the process to immediately redesign the mental health delivery system in Iowa. The additional appropriation will fulfill the underfunded expense for indigent defense. Both areas are priority needs for the state. The bill was approved on a 60-40 vote in the Iowa House and has been sent over to the Senate for their consideration. House Republicans believe the Taxpayers First Act is the first step in giving the taxpayers a seat at the table and aligning ongoing spending with ongoing revenue.
Public Universal and Free Preschool – Is it Sustainable in its Current Form? Much attention has been given to universal and free preschool in an environment when the state is facing a spending gap of nearly $700 million for the coming fiscal year. The current preschool cost exceeds $70 and will grow to over $100 in a couple years. When K-12 was underfunded by $230 million for the upcoming fiscal year ($150 million underfunding, plus nearly $80 million in one-time money), can we sustain any additional money for preschool?
We will work with Governor Branstad who would prefer to partner with nonprofit organizations and businesses, and provide state tuition assistance to people with financial need and not embark on a new program. The current preschool program is costly and distributes taxpayer money without regard for the financial need of the family. This is also consistent with the new appointee to head the state Department of Education, Jason Glass. He stated, “Preschool is critically important, especially for families in poverty, families that are economically disadvantaged. We're talking about a $700 million budget deficit next year, we’ve got to be much more thoughtful about how we spend money. We have to get more efficient with state dollars. If you want to be efficient with how you spend money on preschool, it needs to be targeted to the kids that are going to get the most benefit, which is going to be the kids that are in poverty.” While this may not be the solution policymakers desire, it may be the most viable and sustainable option when considering Iowa’s economic climate.
House Republicans support preschool but recognize changes are needed to ensure financial sustainability. In the past, preschool support has been done primarily through the empowerment programs. The debate and questions about the current preschool program are not about the value, but about the affordability to the families needing preschool education, and to the taxpayer.
Iowa Will be Promoted as a Right-to-Work State The House Republicans have introduced House File 3 that makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Iowa is a Right to Work state. Over the last four years, the House Republicans were able to stop four major labor proposals from being passed. Any of these bills would have gutted Iowa’s Right-to-Work status. Iowa’s Right-to-Work law guarantees that no person can be required, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay any dues to a labor union. This would have forced non-union members to pay a mandated ‘fair share fee’ to the union as condition of employment. Every Republican, as well as a few business-friendly Democrats, stood strong and were able to defeat this ‘Fair Share’ bill along with several other major labor bills. The Republicans will work to strengthen Right to Work provisions and create an economic climate that is conducive to job creation. One way to accomplish this is to require the Department of Economic Development to print, “Iowa is a Right-to-Work State” on all business recruitment, tourism, and promotional literature. This allows prospective employers, interested in locating to Iowa, that we are a business friendly state. The House Republicans will work to make Iowa a business friendly state again. We will take swift action to get 114,000 Iowans back to work, reduce our tax burden, and to submit to the legislature for our consideration a fiscally responsible budget that does not spend more than we have revenue for.
At The Capitol
With Senator Randy Feenstra Week of Jan. 17-21
As both chambers settle in and committees get underway, I find the new dynamic of political power very interesting this legislative session.
The Senate is controlled by the Democrats and the House is controlled by the Republicans. This becomes very significant as key bills come up for debate. This past week the House passed a spending reduction bill. This is a $500 million dollar de-appropriation bill that limits many things including pre-school funding and smoker prevention money.
However, it has been noted by the Senate Democrats that this bill will never come up in the Senate, so it will die. This is intriguing as it seems we will have three different state budgets: One from the Senate Democrats, another from the House Republicans, and one from Governor Branstad. Before we adjourn for the year we must put all three of these budgets into one. That is going to be an immense task! Every group will have to make concessions and compromise.
Democracy will kill many bills this session that are supported by only one party. For a bill to pass both chambers, it will require both the parties (Democrat and Republican) to support the bill. This leaves very few bills that will ever get passed. Dead bills will include:
- Job creation through new policy creation
- State Government retirement reform
- Education reform
- Property Tax Reform
Both political parties are so galvanized that neither side wants to give in to compromise. It is very disappointing. I feel we are all beating our heads against the wall. Instead, we should remove our party banners and sit down together and see what policy is best for the state.
Since this will not occur, we (each legislator) will continue this act of futility. Each legislator will go home, have forums, and exclaim to their constituents that the other side is blocking everything. Media will drive a further wedge between both parties, and the constituents of Iowa will be the ones who continue to get hurt. I love democracy, but hate the bitter and ugly contempt that party politics promotes.
State Representative Dan Huseman, Aurelia, House District 53
On Wednesday, January 19th, the Iowa House of Representatives passed House File 45, also known as the Taxpayers First Act. The bill is designed to reduce spending and make government smaller and more efficient. The legislation, as passed by the House, would reduce state spending by almost $500 million over the next 3 fiscal years. It also sets the stage for eliminating the $700 million general fund spending gap for the coming fiscal year. This is the key. The bill has generated a lot of discussion, mainly because there may be some major changes on the horizon. The bottom line is this…we are determined to keep our promise of not spending more than we take in. You have heard that before and you will hear it a lot these next few years. Even though revenue streams have increased a little, there is still a huge spending gap created by using “one-time money” to fund ongoing programs. When this money is gone, it is gone, but the programs are still in place. This is how spending gaps are created, and unless we get a handle on the problem right now, things will spiral out of control, and state government (taxpayers) will be saddled with a mountain of debt. We must not allow this to happen.
Governor Branstad is supportive of the measure as it now moves to the Senate for consideration. I’m sure it will receive a cool reception there, but that is part of the process. Many people have expressed concerns about specific sections of the bill and that is okay. That is where the debate begins and problems are solved. One must remember that this is only the first step of the process. In the end, this bill will look completely different. There are parts of the legislation that Senators agree with and there are areas which they hate. It is interesting that the debate lasted for 7 or 8 hours, and as for the $700 million gap we have, this bill only reduces it by about $170 million. So there is still a $530 million hole to fill and a lot of hard work ahead.
One final note on this topic. The Legislature appropriates about $5 billion from the general fund each year. The state also receives money from other sources, such as the federal government. In total, about $15 billion flows from the state every year. HF45 seeks to reduce spending over 3 years. So in three years, $45 billion will be spent and $500 million will be cut. That is about a 1% reduction. I believe that is manageable.
A couple of days before he left office, Governor Chet Culver ordered $84 million be cut from the current budget. With the fiscal year more than half over, this makes it difficult for agencies and departments to adjust. The Department of Human Services was told to cut around $27 million which meant the 4 state mental health facilities were going to be hit hard, including the Cherokee MHI. Cherokee stood to lose half of its adult beds and 29-39 employees. Senator Bill Anderson and I met with the new director of DHS on Tuesday afternoon and he assured us that the Branstad administration would do everything it could to make things whole. On Wednesday morning, it was announced that the facilities would not be asked to make cuts – at least not in this fiscal year. This is good news, but the events of the past week show how fragile the mental health system can be. We are okay for now, but there are plans underway to change the entire mental health care delivery system in Iowa. We must maintain services here in Northwest Iowa.
Finally, Governor Terry Branstad will release his proposed budget on Thursday, January 27th. He will address a joint session of the Legislature to lay out his plan for the future. He has talked about doing a two year budget, so this is a much anticipated event.
Representative Dwayne Alons, Hull, District 4
The House worked quickly to fulfill campaign promises of limiting the reach of government, working for more personal responsibility, and standing up for the taxpayers of Iowa. The “Taxpayers First Act” is a key first step in fulfilling voters’ expectations by curbing out-of-control expenditures by more than $500 million over the next three years. Let me give you some highlights of this proposal.
We provide long-range planning to anticipate problems sooner. HF 45 creates the Tax Relief Fund (TRF) to capture the one-time money from the ending balance and return it to the taxpayers. This one-time money should not be used for additional spending - should be returned to the taxpayer who created the positive ending balance by paying increased taxes due to the state not fulfilling commitments. For FY 2012 alone this would mean over $300 million returned to the pockets of taxpayers.
The bill puts in motion the process of creating a two-year budget by requiring the Revenue Estimating Conference to set a revenue estimate for FY 2013. House Republicans have indicated that we will deliver a two-year budget after our budget reforms are signed into law - including a limit on transfer authority and a process that does not abdicate the legislative authority to appropriate funds. House Republicans will use the two-year budget to fund the long-term tax reductions made possible by the TRF and fund minimal growth in essential areas such as public safety, Medicaid and education.
· Eliminates funding for:
o Heated sidewalks
o Des Moines trolley for lobbyists
o Dubuque train depot to nowhere
o Amtrak expansion
o Taxpayer-funded lobbyists
o Rebuild Iowa office
o Energy Independence office
o State-paid cell phones for state employees
· Requires state employees to pay $100/month for health insurance (currently many pay no premium)
· Prohibits public services for adult illegal aliens
· Eliminates free preschool for all and replaces it with a program to support low income families
· Prohibits Iowa Department of Natural Resources making new land purchases
· Sells the Iowa Communications Network
· Stops funding for regent universities’ paid leave/sabbaticals of professors
· Ends corporate grant programs by eliminating the Iowa Values Fund and the Iowa Power Fund.
The bill was approved on a 60-40 vote on Wednesday evening and sent to the Senate.
House Joint Resolution 6
The Judiciary Committee will pick up the pace next week. HJR 6, the Constitutional Marriage Amendment, is now assigned to a subcommittee that I chair. This is the start of the process to move the language defining marriage between “one man and one woman” to the ballot for the people’s vote in the future. The actual language for the resolution is “Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.” The real issue to be addressed with the Amendment is to honor Article III of our Constitution that states “All political power is inherent in the people” to allow the people to decide on the definition of marriage instead of seven appointed Supreme Court judges. I believe we must follow through on the strong signal given by the non-retention vote on three justices – the people of the state believe their opinion went too far to implement new law not approved by the legislature nor were the people allowed to make a decision on the time honored status of traditional marriage.
Nine More Filed Bills
House File 1: Rolling Sunset of all State Programs
House File 1 creates a process to sunset and review 20 percent of the budget per year, for five years. This is a version of zero-based budgeting that allows for a lengthy review of each program and department once every five years. This will allow legislators to identify unnecessary programs and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.
House File 2: Health Care Freedom Act
House File 2 the health care freedom act. Under the bill, Iowans have the right to choose private health care systems or private health care plans. Additionally, any mandate to purchase is eliminated with no penalty, tax, fee, or fine for declining or failing to participate in any particular health care system or plan.
House File 3: Right to Work
House File 3 requires state departments to include the phrase “Iowa is a Right to Work state” in their marketing materials. After four years of constant attack on our Right to Work law, Republicans plan to move quickly to not only plan to protect our Right to Work law but also remind employers that Iowa is in fact a Right to Work state.
House File 4: 20% Across the Board Income Tax Cut
House File 4 is a 20% across the board state income tax cut. The top rate, which is all income exceeding $45,000, is reduced from 8.98% to 7.18%
House File 5: Late Term Abortions
House File 5 is a proposal to prohibit abortions of an unborn child that has reached the post fertilization age of 20 weeks. A physician who performed one of these abortions would be charged with a class C felony and a medical facility that allowed the prohibited abortion to be performed could lose its state licensure and eligibility for state funding. The bill does include an exception to the ban when a medical emergency exists. This is defined as being necessary to prevent the death of the mother or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.
The bill is closely modeled on a new Nebraska law which prohibits these abortions. The bill includes language clearly stating that the provision does not create a right to abortion, nor does it establish that life begins at 20 weeks after fertilization. Instead, the bill recognizes that life begins at conception.
House File 6: Searchable Budget Database
· Directs the Dept. of Management to create/maintain a searchable budget database website by January 1, 2013
· Use of website is free to the public. Cost to create/maintain website to be determined in a forthcoming fiscal note.
· Site would allow the public to search the names and locations of recipients of state funds including:
o Amount of funds
o Agency providing the funds
o Program or activity
o Description or purpose
o Expected/past outcomes of funding actions/expenditures
o Any applicable state audits
o Other relevant information
· The website is to be updated within 30 days of the close of each fiscal year
· By January 1, 2014, data should be entered for previous years
· Also requires the Dept. of Management (in consultation with the Dept. of Revenue) to create/maintain a searchable database with all tax rates for each taxing entity
House File 7: Castle Doctrine
House File 7 is the justifiable use of reasonable force or “castle doctrine.”
House File 8: Photo IDs as a Requisite to Voting
· Requires that all voters show proof of identity before voting
o Must include a photo of the registered voter
o Must have an expiration date and not have expired by the election day
o Must have been issued by the federal government or the State of Iowa
· Includes an avenue to cast a provisional ballot if voter cannot or refuses to show compliant identification
· Requires that election day registrants and in-person absentee voters show the same proof of identification that registered voters show
· Removes the provision that allowed another registered voter to sign an oath affirming another registrant’s identity/residency
House File 9: Property Tax Reform
Increases the state portion of the school aid formula, thus reducing property taxes for Iowa taxpayers.
Requires counties or cities whose property tax or other revenue capacity is reduced to cut spending for non-essential services first.
Limits property tax increases in all categories by limiting the increase to the class that has the lowest increase.
Caps at 4 percent the allowable property tax increase in any given year.
January Legislative Forums
January 29, Rock Rapids Forster Community Bldg., 8:00 a.m. “Eggs and Issues”
January 29, Sheldon TEA Party Forum, Sheldon Community Bldg., 10:15 a.m.
February 4, Sioux Center Pizza Ranch, 12:00 noon
February 11, Rock Valley, Cedar Rock Grill, 12:00 noon
Bill Anderson, Pierson, Senate District 27
The Anderson Report
On Friday, January 14th the peaceful transfer of power took place with the inauguration of Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. I, like Governor Branstad, am committed to reducing the size and cost of government as well as creating new private sector jobs. I am pleased that Governor Branstad has assumed office and look forward to working closely with him in the near future.
Along with the inauguration of the governor, I am pleased to welcome two new members to our caucus. Senator Joni Ernst and Senator-elect Jack Whitver won special elections in their respective districts. I welcome both to the Senate and am excited to work with them on legislation in the coming weeks.
A first step toward state government reform took place last evening in the Iowa House. At 11:10PM the House passed House File 45, The Taxpayer’s First Act, on a 60 to 40 vote. The passage of HF 45 will start our state government down the road to eventual sound fiscal footing. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) estimates it will save the taxpayers upwards of $500 million dollars over three years while setting aside $327 million dollars for much-needed tax relief. With passage of the bill, I will be watching closely to see what action Senate Democrats take with this piece of legislation as many of them ran as fiscal conservatives.
As I mentioned last week, I was greeted with bad news regarding former’s proposed cuts to the (MHI). I proceeded to change my schedule so I could meet with Dr. Smith and other MHI staff members. My meeting with MHI staff and Economic Development Director, Mark Bushkamp, prepared me to work towards solutions to this potentially devastating proposal. On Tuesday, I met with Department of Human Services Director, Chuck Palmer, and he stated that Governor Branstad was committed to keeping financing levels consistent for the facilities at least through this budget year. This is a positive message, but there is still work to be done. Rest assured, I will continue to monitor and report to you on this important issue.
I attended a number of Senate Committee meetings this week, the first being a presentation on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in the Ways and Means Committee. Our Labor and Business Committee held several meetings to discuss Worker’s Compensation issues as well as Chapter 20 reform. The Transportation, Infrastructure, and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee held an organizational meeting. Additionally, the Commerce Committee discussed electronic transmission with a representative from the Iowa Association of Electric Co-ops. I look forward to working on these and many other issues and keeping you aware of the progress that is made.
These legislative updates were provided by the lawmakers and are not edited for content.
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