Legis.News -- Inside the Iowa Legislature, February 23, 2007
By Speaker of the House Pat Murphy
RECOGNIZING THE NATIONAL GUARD
Major General Ron Dardis, Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, told a joint session of the Iowa General Assembly that the Iowa National Guard is as strong as it has been in generations, thanks to the remarkable service members as well as supportive families, employers and communities. He paid tribute to the families of four fallen Iowa soldiers and welcomed citizen soldiers and airmen in eight units from around the state.
General Dardis noted that nearly 1,100 Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen are currently deployed or are preparing to deploy in support of the global war on terror. He also said the reserve component has provided nearly half of the military forces required to fight the war on terror over the past six years, and that the Iowa National Guard has been at the forefront of this effort. This hits particularly close to home as several members of the General Assembly also serve, or have served, in the armed forces, including Representative Ray Zirkelbach of Monticello, a national guardsman currently stationed in Iraq. For the past two legislative sessions, Rep. Zirkelbach's desk in the House chamber has been empty except for a folded American flag, and we await his safe return, expected later this year.
General Dardis praised several programs aimed at helping Iowa veterans, and I want to note several efforts to maintain programs that have run out of funding because of their popularity. The Legislature recently approved $2 million to refill the Homeowners Assistance Program, which provides grants of up to $5,000 for a down payment or closing costs for a home purchased by a veteran or active duty member serving since 9/11.
In addition, the Legislature recently authorized $2 million to continue to operate the Injured Veterans Grant Program, which provides financial assistance of up to $10,000 to a veteran injured while in a combat zone.
These grants are provided in increments of $2,500 every 30 days until reaching $10,000 while the veteran is hospitalized or receiving medical care or rehabilitation services authorized by the military.
Because the Iowa National Guard has a federal mission to provide combat-ready units in support of the national defense, the federal government provides more than 97 percent of its budget. That means this year alone more than $375 million in federal funding came into the state in the form of salaries, training and operations, equipment and support related to the Guard's infrastructure programs.
BALANCING THE STATE BUDGET
We've had several weeks to review the Governor's budget recommendation for the next fiscal year, and recently the chairs of the seven House and Senate budget subcommittees were given spending targets, so that they can begin to make spending decisions within their respective budget areas. Those spending targets are pretty closely in line with the Governor's recommendations, with a few variations.
In line with the Plan for Prosperity that I've touted as a blueprint for the session, the 2008 budget will place significant new funds into education (preschool through college) and alternative energy programs, and to reduce commercial property taxes. The budget targets, developed jointly by leadership in the House and Senate, anticipate building-up the state's reserve funds to $578 million, the highest level ever, and bringing the state nearly halfway to the goal of repaying $300 million to the Senior Living Trust Fund. Next, each budget subcommittee will draft a budget bill which will be submitted to the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate.
I also expect that we will increase the cigarette tax by a significant amount, and that the increased revenue will be deposited into the Healthy Iowans Tobacco Trust (HITT) fund, which was created several years ago to fund health programs with revenue from the national court settlement with the tobacco manufacturers. While the main purpose of the tobacco tax increase is to reduce tobacco use in Iowa, I expect we will use the revenue to fund programs related to health care, substance abuse treatment and prevention, and tobacco cessation programs.