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Finishing the state budget

April 15, 2012
By State Representative Betty DeBoef , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

It happens every session the Legislature reaches a point where everyone is concerned about the budget. We can wrangle all we want over policy bills, but the main responsibility of the Legislature is to design and agree on a state budget.

With the session winding down, we are left with finishing the work on our most important task. The press last week was chiding the Legislature on the difficulty of coming to a decision. Remember, the Legislature is divided and so there was bound to be difficulty in finding consensus. And there is the Governor, who has his own ideas of what a responsible budget should look like. The House, coming off a $5.99 billion budget of the previous year, has proposed a one percent increase that sets the budget at $6.06 billion.

Republicans are concerned that the state's budget should be sustainable. If we say we are going to fund something, we need to make sure the money is there to pay for it. Lessons were learned two years ago, when the Legislature left town with a budget that state revenues could not support. It was based on the use of $800 million of federal stimulus funds, which went away.

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House Republicans still sense insecurity when they look to the future, even though Iowa's economy is showing growth. That growth is still slow, even with agriculture as the bright spot. There are concerns, like the rising cost of gas. I know very well how high gas prices can impact the family budget, as well as business. The federal government has huge budget concerns. The federal deficit is now set at $15.6 trillion, and Congress and the President cannot agree on how to balance their budget and reduce their deficit. We are concerned about the amount of federal funds that would be going to the states in the future. Iowa's budget is $6 billion. But when you add in the federal funding, it is $12 billion.

The Governor feels a lot more secure about the future. He is proposing a budget that spends $6.244 billion. The Governor spends only 99.5 percent of ongoing revenue, and feels his budget is a responsible one. He respects our opening proposal, but hopes that we might move closer to his level.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats' budget spends more than the state takes in. They not only utilize all of the ongoing revenue, but also spend an additional $113 million of tobacco tax revenue that is deposited into health care trust fund. Adopting their budget would put the state back in the same place we were just two years ago making promises we can't keep.

We have taken the position that you, the taxpayer, should have a seat at the table in the budget planning process. Remember, last year's budget recognized the necessity for austerity because of the disappearance of federal funding and a non-sustainable spending level. The country was still in the depths of a recession when the 2012 budget was proposed. Because we held the line on spending last year and state revenues continue to grow, the state's ending balance is projected to be $437 million at the end of June. After the reserve funds are filled to ten percent, the remainder will be deposited in the Taxpayers Trust Fund. That money is to be returned to taxpayers. The logic of this is, taxpayers need a refund. They over-paid on their with-holding tax.

In the next few days, the Governor and legislative leadership will sit down and work on the overall size of the budget. It is my feeling that both the House and the Senate will move closer towards the Governor's spending levels. In moving that direction, House Republicans would still adhere to our principles of sound budgeting. We see the need for quality services from our state government, but we also recognize the need to not spend more than we take in. Our state's budget should be supported with ongoing revenue only, just like the family's budget.

Many have criticized House Republicans about their budget, saying it is too low. Is that criticism justified? I agree it is austere, but it is not the final number.

House Republicans and their budget can be characterized as a person going to a car dealership to purchase a car.One never pays the car dealer's asking price; you always make a counter offer. In the days ahead, the House will join with the Governor and negotiate that "final price."

When that is reached, this Legislature will quickly resolve their differences and pass a fiscally responsible budget.

Then I will exit the Capitol as a State Representative serving during the legislative session for the last time, unless a Special session is called.



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