Week fifteen of the session is done, one week to go in the official calendar. We have voted on over 200 bills on the floor of the House. Work on Appropriations bills dominated the past week; the House ran six on the floor in one day. Nearly all of them will end up in a conference committee made up of members from both chambers and both parties. Given the slow progress on the bills already in conference committee, I don't believe we will adjourn next week.
The Senate has not yet responded on the Education Reform compromise offered by the House nearly two weeks ago. Time is running short for our schools; they need to make staffing decisions for the upcoming year. With our proposal, the governor and the House Republicans have demonstrated our commitment to both implementing education reforms that will help improve our schools performance, and to providing our schools with adequate funding. Hopefully the Senate will respond soon. If not, our schools and our kids will have to make do with the same funding level as last year, and without the needed reforms to improve performance.
State Rep. Dean Fisher
Sticking to Principles
Each of the appropriations bills that have come over from the Senate has had one common characteristic. Not only do they spend far higher than the House budget targets, but they surpass the Senate's own budget targets. Early in the Session the House and Senate set their budget targets for fiscal year 2014. The House target was $6.4139 billion, spending 98 cents for every dollar of revenue. The Senate target was $6.9 billion, spending $1.05 for every dollar of revenue. This was $487 million more than the House Republican target. The House target represents a 3% increase in spending over Fiscal Year 2013. The Senate target represents an 11% increase in spending over Fiscal Year 2013.
At last count, the Senate had sent over appropriations bills that spend $47 million more than their own target of $6.9 billion, raising their spending to an 11.6% increase in General Fund spending. However, this count doesn't include the Standings bill, which hasn't been sent over yet.
Iowa has averaged revenue growth of 3.4 percent over the last 20 years. Clearly the House spending plan reflects a more sustainable and responsible approach to our state budget. The House will stick to our budgeting principles that we laid out at the start of the session:
* Republican budgets do not spend more money than the state takes in;
* Republican budgets do not use one-time money to pay for on-going expenses;
* Republican budgets do not intentionally underfund entitlement programs to balance the state's budget;
* Republican budgets will return unused tax dollars to Iowa's taxpayers.
Honoring Iowa's Fallen Heroes
Memorial Day weekend I am planning on joining Governor Branstad and a few of my colleagues from the legislature at a ceremony to re-dedicate the Iowa State Civil War Memorial at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The memorial is in honor of the many Iowa Civil War soldiers that fought and died in the Union Siege of Vicksburg. The Iowa State Monument was dedicated on November 15, 1906 and construction was completed in 1912. Iowa also built thirteen smaller monuments and other bronze plagues in the park. In 2012 the Iowa Legislature appropriated $320,000 for preservation and restoration of the Iowa Civil War Memorial in Vicksburg so that future generations will be reminded of the sacrifices made by Iowans in that struggle.Vicksburg Monument
From Governor Branstad's invitation: "Over 30,000 Iowa soldiers participated in the Siege of Vicksburg in 1862 and 1863, which was a key turning point in the Civil War for operational control of the Mississippi River. The significance of the Siege is underscored in the following quote from President Abraham Lincoln: 'See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket...We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.'"
Several of my relatives from Tama County participated in the Siege of Vicksburg as part of the 10th Iowa Infantry, including my great-great grandfather Robert Filloon who survived the war, his brother A. J. Filloon who was wounded and later died and is buried at Vicksburg, and my great grandfather Fisher's brother John (Jasper) Fisher, who survived Vicksburg but died later in the war. As I prepare for the trip I hope to identify other Tama and Marshall County residents that may be buried at Vicksburg so that I can visit their graves and honor their sacrifice. I will be travelling at my own expense, enjoying the opportunity to represent my state as well as pursue my interest in genealogy, history, and travel.
On Tuesday, April 23 I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of 5th graders from the North Tama School district. The grade school kids are always a treat to speak to!
On Tuesday, April 23, the Family Leader held a rally in the capitol rotunda in support of Pro-Life legislation. Joining in from Tama county were Bob and Mildred Mason, Roger and Chloe Ann Hill, and from Marshall county were Jane Jech, Diane Lake, Bruce Roorda, Barb Miller, and Patricia Long .
Senator Grassley will be holding a town meeting in Room 808 of Dejardin Hall at Marshalltown Community College at 3702 South Center Street in Marshalltown on Thursday, May 2. The meeting will be from 11:00 a.m. - Noon. I hope you'll be there.
I would encourage you all to come visit me at the capitol during session. Time is drawing short; we only have one week left in the scheduled session. After that we may be in session sporadically as the various conference committees complete their work. Please call or email me ahead so I can be sure to greet you and personally show you the House Chamber and take you on a tour up to the top of the dome. We can also arrange a guided tour of this stunningly beautiful building that is "The Peoples House."
As always, I look forward to hearing from you, and I look forward to seeing you around the district, or down here at the capitol.
Facebook and Google both made project announcements this week in Iowa. Facebook will be locating a new data center in Altoona, while Google will be expanding its current data center operation in Council Bluffs.
Facebook's new data center project had been a secret for many months as Iowa competed with Nebraska to land the social-networking company. Facebook, which operated under pseudonym of a subsidiary called Siculus, Inc. ended up deciding to locate its newest investment in central Iowa. Facebook has pledged to invest a minimum of $299.5 million in the project, but will likely spend hundreds of millions of dollars more as they roll out additional phases of the plan. The new project is proposed to use 476,000 square feet of space, featuring an innovative outdoor-air cooling system and the latest in Open Compute Project server designs.
Google made waves in 2009 when it announced it would make an initial investment of $600 million in locating its new data center in Council Bluffs. In 2012, the company sought and received an agreement with the state to expand the original project. Google proposed to spend $300 million on another facility. In doing so, Google became eligible for $7.2 million in tax benefits. The newest project expansion will increase the capital investment by another $400 million. In return, Google will be eligible for an additional $9.6 million in tax credit benefits in the form of a refund of sales and use taxes.
Iowa is well situated to attract these high-tech companies due to plentiful space, relatively cheap energy costs, access to large supplies of water, the unlikelihood of natural disasters, and for the state's business attraction incentives under the High Quality Jobs program.
Governor Branstad praised the developments and said specifically of the Facebook investment that, "[the] announcement further solidifies Iowa's position as a destination for tech companies - from major data center operations like Facebook's to the innovative start-ups we continue to see popping up around our state."
House Moves Six Appropriations Bills in One Day
In a flurry of budget activity on Tuesday, the House moved forward on six of the major appropriations bills. In taking these actions, House Republicans maintained their commitment to funding state government within the amount of on-going revenue. House Democrats also showed their priorities, as they voted for nearly $300 million in spending beyond the House budget targets.
The House passed the Fiscal Year 14 Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) appropriations bill. House File 638 spends a portion of the state's gaming revenue on a variety of infrastructure projects. This year's RIIF bill includes increases in funding for lake dredging and water quality projects, a new emphasis on performing routine, deferred, and major maintenance of state facilities, and new construction at the three Regents institutions. HF 638 now awaits action in the Senate Appropriations Committee
Action was also taken on the Agriculture & Natural Resources budget (SF 435) and the Justice Systems budget (SF 447). Each of these bills provide significant funding enhancements. In Senate File 435, operating increases were provided to the Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, and the ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The bill also includes $42 million in funding through the Environment First Fund.
The Justice Systems budget made a number of changes in funding levels within the Department of Corrections, reflecting the impending shifting of populations as the new facilities in Fort Madison and Mitchellville start to come on-line. Funding for the Department of Public Safety and Public Defense was set at the level proposed by the Governor. Both SF 435 and SF 447 await further action by the Senate.
Two bills that started in the House were sent to conference committee. Amendments by the Senate to the Administration & Regulation budget (HF 603) and the FY 14 Education budget (HF 604) were rejected by the House as the each spent significantly more than the House budget targets. Meetings of these conference committees are beginning. Last week, the Economic Development appropriations bill (SF 430) was also sent to conference.
One major sign of progress was resolution on what level of funding is provided in this year's budget bills for FY 2015. Like two years ago, the second year of the budget is funded at 50 percent of the FY 14 level. A few categories, like school aid, Medicaid, and property tax credits, will be funded at a higher level. This was also done two years ago.
The setting of the FY 15 funding level allowed the House to complete its work on the Transportation appropriations bill for the next two years, HF 602. The Senate is expected to send the bill to the Governor soon.
While House Republicans maintained their commitment to funding an effective and efficient state government, House Democrats displayed their penchant for spending every available penny and more with a series of votes that would have pushed the state much closer to seeing the return of across the board cuts. The pinnacle of their efforts was an amendment for a one year appropriation of $160 million from the state's ending balance to an unnamed group of environmental projects. Where the money goes, how it is distributed, and what happens in future years were not even discussed.
New Online Hunter Education Course Option Begins July 1
Adults who have prior hunting or firearms handling experience and are looking to satisfy their hunter education requirement to purchase a hunting license will have a new option beginning July 1. The DNR will now offer an online hunter education course.
The online course will have the same materials as the classroom course and students will be tested in the same way. The online course will last 7 to 8 hours, and students will need to pass a quiz at the end of each chapter and a final exam. The course is designed for students age 18 and older with prior hunting or gun handling experience. The classroom course is for students age 11 and older with or without firearm handling experience.
If adult students take the course prior to July 1, they will either need to complete a field day or retake the online course after July 1. The new adult online course is an effort to reduce the barriers to attract new hunters into the field, by allowing them to satisfy the hunter education requirement on their schedule and at their own pace. For a current listing of hunter education courses, go to www.iowadnr.gov/training.