BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law today, a bill that balances the current fiscal year budget, which was facing a shortfall of approximately $117 million.
Although not an unexpected result from a Republican controlled legislature, several local officials weighed in on the 1st legislative bill to be signed into law in the new session.
State Sen. Rich Taylor said Iowa had the money to offset the shortfall and the cuts coming as a result of this law will hurt Iowans.
“We’ve got $700 million in a slush fund that we could have used,” Taylor said. “We could have fixed this problem and then went to work on corporate tax cuts to repay those funds next year.”
“Now we’re cutting education, public safety including Iowa Highway Patrol by a million. You get in a wreck you better hope someone shows up because the state patrol may not make it,” Taylor said.
The governor said in signing the bill he was pleased that critical funding wasn’t part of the de-appropriation.
“Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I appreciate that the 1st bill passed by the Iowa legislature, responsibly balances the budget for fiscal year 2017,” said Gov. Terry Branstad. “As I said in my Condition of the State address, these adjustments are required by law. I’m pleased that the legislature made the tough decisions early in the session exempting K-12 education funding, Medicaid payments and property tax backfill for local governments from reduction, providing stability for Iowa schools, businesses, and families.”
The bill passed the Iowa House 58-38 on Jan. 30, 2017 and the Iowa Senate on Jan. 26, 2017, 28-19.
Rep. Dave Heaton (R-Mt. Pleasant) said some thought the shortfall could be handled differently, but those choices didn’t make sense to him.
“Critics of the bill say we could have financed this De-Appropriation bill in a different way. They say we can use the reserve as a source of funding. Yes, we could, but by law we would have to repay the fund in the following year. This would create a $117 million shortfall in that year. There would be no money for education and we would have to short health care,” Heaton said in a statement released Monday prior to becoming law Wednesday.
“This bill does not come without, what I feel, shortcomings. The Department of Corrections will experience a $5.5 million reduction; the courts will receive a $3 million cut; and the Highway Patrol budget will be reduced by $1 million. These reductions amount to one-third of what the Governor proposed in his de-appropriation budget. We did the best we could to soften the blow in these three critical areas. It is my hope that in the coming budget year we will do everything we can to re-establish the funding levels for our prisons, our courts and our highway law enforcement.
The new law requires an $18 million reduction from the three state universities and $3 million from community colleges.
Dr. Michael Ash, President of Southeastern Community College said any reduction in funding is tough to swallow.
“We don’t have any fat in the budget” he said. “As with any agency facing a shortfall, SCC is greatly disappointed. We understand there are challenges with the state budget, however community colleges are attempting to address skills and jobs training in local economies. With those cuts or lack of appropriate funding it limits our ability to do just that,” Ash said.
Heaton said SCC will experience a $159K decrease versus over one-half million dollars that was in the Governor’s original de-appropriation request.
“Well I’m going to say I’m thankful, if someone could be thankful with a cut in funding, that they moved it from $8.7 million to $3 million. It does impact the college by over $126,000 we will tighten a little bit more. I don’t have much left,” Ash said.