10 issues likely on the agenda in the 2018 Iowa Legislature

William Petroskibpetrosk@dmreg.comPublished 2:00 p.m. CT Jan. 6, 2018

State lawmakers face numerous challenges for the session that begins Jan. 8, 2018. Wochit

Debate is brewing over the state budget, tax reform and abortion rights as the Iowa Legislature prepares to convene Monday for its 2018 session.

As legislators return to the Capitol, other issues that could be on the docket include water quality funding, a repeal of the state’s 5-cent beverage deposit law, reinstatement of capital punishment, penalties for so-called “sanctuary cities,” Medicaid and mental health care, education funding, and sports betting.

The House and Senate will gavel in at 10 a.m. for what Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, describes as “Chapter 2” of enacting a pro-business, conservative agenda to spur economic growth and create good-paying Iowa jobs. Republicans control both chambers, as well as the governor’s office.

“The environment that we are all working in will get more competitive, and we need to embrace that. If you are not doing that, pretty soon your competitor will surpass you,” Dix recently told the Iowa Chamber Alliance, which represents 16 chambers of commerce and economic development groups from Iowa’s largest communities.

Chapter 1 of the Republicans’ plans to restructure state government was written last year when GOP lawmakers delivered on a campaign promise to enact sweeping statutory changes promoted by anti-tax, free-market lobbying organizations; gun rights activists; and evangelical Christians.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, laments much of what happened last session. Some of those changes included a rollback of collective bargaining rights for public employees, a nullification of local minimum-wage increases for low-paid workers, changes in family planning programs that blocked funding to Planned Parenthood, and spending reductions in other programs she believes will negatively affect disabled children, pregnant women and others.

“We don’t cut our way to prosperity,” Petersen warned at a Greater Des Moines Partnership legislative forum. She chastised Republicans, saying that after last session “a lot of Iowans think they did a lot of bad things to good people.”

This year’s session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn around April 17, which is when legislators’ daily expense payments end.

All 100 seats in the Iowa House will be up for re-election in November, while 25 of the 50 Senate seats will be on the ballot. Some lawmakers will also face party primary elections in June.

Here is a look at 10 key issues that could face intense debate

  1. BUDGET: State revenue growth has been slower than expected, which means tough decisions must be maderegarding a state budget for the current fiscal year that was already reduced last session. The latest revenue forecast anticipates general fund revenues of about $7.2 billion, up about 2 percent after reserve fund transfers are excluded, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.

State fiscal analysts recently estimated the state faces a shortfall of about $37 million for the current budget year. But state revenue officials reported Friday the impact of federal tax reform could result in a windfall of $16 million in additional state tax revenue because of the impacts of federal tax deductibility. However, the full impact of federal tax reform is still undetermined, and Republican lawmakers say Iowa taxpayers shouldn’t face higher state taxes simply because Congress has reduced federal taxes.

One key decision facing lawmakers is whether they will continue to provide state dollars to “backfill” local property tax cuts approved by the Legislature in 2013 that affect cities, counties and school districts. Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to propose funding for the backfill dollars in her budget proposal, but legislative leaders aren’t making any promises. The most recent payments have been $152 million annually.

  1. TAX REFORM:Republicans have vowed to enacted a “fairer and flatter” state income tax system. But it’s not clear exactly what the plan will look like.A recent memo from Senate Republicans signaled interest in a proposal that includes reductions to individual and corporate tax rates, slashing the number of tax brackets and an expansion of the sales tax base.

Democrats have repeatedly complained the state’s budget has been starved by hundreds of millions of dollars in tax giveaways to businesses. But business lobbyists defends state tax incentives. They say state tax credits and other incentives have a demonstrated return on investment but should be focused on stimulating economic growth across diverse industry categories.

Tom Sands, president of the Iowa Taxpayers Association, said his organization is urging lawmakers to enact state tax reform in the wake of federal tax reform. But he suggested any final vote on state tax reform is more likely late in the session rather than early to ensure that lawmakers balance the state’s budget. He also noted implementation of tax reform could be staggered over a period of years.

  1. EDUCATION FUNDING/SCHOOL CHOICE:Parents, teachers and school administrators annually plead for more money for K-12 programs, saying it’s important for quality education. Look for lawmakers and Reynolds to make efforts to avoid spending cuts in state aid to school districts, although any increases are likely be minimal.

Meanwhile, community colleges and the state’s three public universities face question marks regarding their funding levels, despite Reynolds’ pledge to develop more skilled workers and highly educated people for a 21st-century Iowa labor force. University and college administrators say they have already tightened their belts and have enacted cost savings, which means further spending cuts could lead to big tuition hikes in the coming years. That could make it harder for many Iowans to obtain post-secondary educations and training to qualify for better-paying jobs.

Supporters of school choice say they will push for several key issues and programs in the upcoming session: These include establishing Education Savings Accounts for parents to pay for their children’s private educations; expanding the state’s tuition tax credit program that funds nonpublic school scholarships; and altering Iowa law to allow for charter schools to be run by private organizations.

  1. WATER QUALITY:Republican leaders predict quick, early action to approve long-term, sustainable funding for statewide water quality projects. Both the House and Senate have developed proposals, and lawmakers say the final version could include pieces of both plans.

The Senate bill would redirect about $12 million in sales tax money that Iowans already pay on their water bills as well as $15 million now used to pay off Vision Iowa project bonds. It would provide funding for projects detailed by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and would be fully funded in 2021.

The House bill would set up a financing structure that would grant priority to groups with multiple stakeholders who come up with water quality improvement projects at a regional watershed level. It would also divert sales taxes imposed on metered drinking water and would ramp up over time until it provides about $26 million annually.

Many minority Democrats opposed majority Republicans’ plans last session to shift money to pay for water quality initiatives, calling it a shell game. They said new tax revenue is needed for water quality, contending Republicans’ plans to rely on existing revenue would require cuts in spending for education and other state programs.

A coalition of environmental and outdoor advocacy groups has repeatedly proposed an alternative approach to raise the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of one cent to fund water quality initiatives and other programs. However, that proposal has been dead on arrival, with many conservative legislators who oppose any form of a tax increase.

  1. MEDICAID/MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES: The state’s shift to private management of the $5 billion Medicaid health care program for 600,000 low-income and disabled Iowans remains mired in controversy. Former Gov. Terry Branstad implemented the changes in an effort to contain soaring health care costs that Republicans contend were unsustainable. But patients and providers are still angrily lodging complaints about coverage and payment problems.

The majority of Iowans do not approve of how Medicaid is being handled by state leaders, according to a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Reynolds has indicated she doesn’t want the Iowa Legislature to intervene by proposing bills to fix Medicaid, but Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, has suggested the patience of GOP lawmakers is wearing thin.

Similarly, nearly two-thirds of Iowans surveyed disapprove of how state leaders are handling mental health issues, the Iowa Poll shows. Critics contend Iowa has far too few resources, including hospital beds and crisis centers for people suffering problems such as psychoses or deep depression.

Iowa’s mental health system has been in flux for several years. Branstad closed two of Iowa’s four state mental hospitals in 2015. He noted that the facilities’ patient load had shrunk significantly, and he contended the state hospitals’ services could be better provided by private agencies. Critics said the state facilities still provided important services, and they say the loss is still being felt in southern Iowa.

Iowa also has recently shifted to a 14-region system of overseeing many mental health services, after decades of having each county oversee those services. Proponents of the shift, including Reynolds, say it allows more efficient and fair distribution of mental health services, including efforts to keep people from becoming so ill that they need hospitalization or wind up in jail.

  1. ABORTION/FAMILY PLANNING: Abortion opponents plan a push for so-called“personhood” legislation that declares life begins at conception; further efforts to cut the state’s ties to Planned Parenthood; and moves to outlaw the sale of fetal body parts.

The 2018 session follows one of the most divisive debates ever on abortion rights at the Iowa Capitol. The past session saw hundreds of pink-clad supporters of Planned Parenthood rallying against Republican-sponsored bills and chanting “Our body, our choice.” At the same time, scores of abortion foes sang Christian hymns and lobbied for passage of legislation they believe will help protect the sanctity of life.

Branstad signed a bill after last year’s session that bans most abortions after 20 weeks. The measure also requires a three-day waiting period for abortions, although those provisions are being challenged in the Iowa Supreme Court. Republican lawmakers also blocked public money for family planning services to abortion providers, which led Planned Parenthood to announce it was closing four of its 12 Iowa clinics.

  1. SANCTUARY CITIES: Iowa’scities and counties would be banned from enacting “sanctuary” policiesthat provide safe havens for undocumented immigrants under a bill that won Senate approval last session and is pending in the Iowa House.

The legislation would bar a local government from receiving state funds if the provisions were violated. This includes requiring law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration detainer requests for people in their custody. In addition, the bill would prohibit local governments from discouraging local law enforcement officers or others from activities related to enforcing immigration laws.

National polling has consistently shown such legislation is popular among the public, but many Iowa lobbying groups have registered against the bill. These opponents include including the Iowa League of Cities, Iowa State Bar Association, Iowa Police Chiefs Association, Iowa County Attorneys Association, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Iowa Catholic Conference, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and others.

Iowa grocers want to quit handling returns of cans and bottles, but the 1978 law establishing beverage container redemptions has been popular with the public and effective in encouraging recyling. William Petroski/The Register

  1. BOTTLE BILL:Grocers and convenience store chains are lobbying hard to scrap the state’s 5-cent bottle deposit lawand replace it with an expanded statewide recycling program. Opponents say the state’s roadsides will be filled with litter if business lobbyists get their way.

Iowa currently recovers 86 percent of its beverage containers, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The law covers all carbonated and alcoholic beverages, and about 1.65 billion containers are redeemed annually in Iowa. The combination of the beverage container law and existing curbside recycling makes Iowa one of the top recycling states in the nation.

If the Legislature repeals the deposit law, the percentage of beverage containers recycled would be expected to drop to the national average of 29 percent, opponents say.

  1. DEATH PENALTY:State Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, says he will seek consideration of Senate File 335, which would reinstate the death penalty for multiple offenses in which a minor is kidnapped, raped and murdered. It’s doubtful his bill can gain enough support to win final passage, and it may not even receive a Senate subcommittee hearing, but any discussion of the issue sparks emotional debate.

Behn told the Des Moines Register he wants to prevent deaths like that of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage, who was abducted from her grandmother’s residence in March 2005 and found slain the next day in a mobile home southwest of Iowa City. The girl had been sexually abused, and two men remain in prison for crimes against her.

Death penalty opponents are vowing a fight if there is a serious push to reinstate capital punishment. They point out that offenders convicted of first-degree murder in Iowa are rarely released on parole; instead they usually die in prison. They also note that Iowa has one of the lowest murder rates in the nation. In 2016, Iowa’s murder rate was 2.3 per 100,000 people, less than half the national average of 5.3 percent.

  1. SPORTS BETTING: The Iowa Gaming Association, which represents the state’s 19 commercial casinos, is asking lawmakers to pass a bill during the upcoming legislative session that would allow sports betting on professional and college sports, said Wes Ehrecke, the association’s president.

Ehrecke’s organization wants the Iowa Legislature to act now in anticipation that the Supreme Court will side with New Jersey in a pending case that could open the floodgates for legal sports betting nationally. A decision by the high court is expected this spring or summer.

How the Legislature responds to the Gaming Association’s proposal is uncertain. Upmeyer said that there are House members on both sides of the sports betting issue, and that she wants to hear more about what Iowans have to say on the topic.

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/06/10-issues-likely-agenda-2018-iowa-legislature/971256001/

 

Tight budget will force lawmakers to get creative on policy in 2018 session

Brianne Pfannenstiel,bpfannenst@dmreg.com Published 6:02 p.m. CT Jan. 5, 2018

State lawmakers face numerous challenges for the session that begins Jan. 8, 2018. Wochit

Republican lawmakers will enter the 2018 legislative session Monday with lofty goals of reforming the tax code, expanding school choice options and shoring up a privatized Medicaid program that has hit numerous bumps in its first years.

But for every new policy, there’s a price tag. And Republican leaders say the reality of the state’s budget situation could dramatically limit their ability to implement sweeping policy reforms this year.

“The availability of revenue is always an issue,” said Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, who chairs the House tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “So if we don’t have money to spend, we are certainly not going to borrow to do those kinds of things.”

Slower-than-expected revenue growth continues to plague the state’s budget;for the second time in as many years, lawmakers’ first task upon entering the state Capitol in January will be to make cuts to the current year’s budget.

Existing commitments are likely to eat up whatever revenue growth is available for the next year’s spending plan, leaving little left over for new priorities and initiatives.

“We have some dollars but not a whole lot,” said House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls. As committee chairman, Rogers oversees the always-contentious effort to set per-pupil spending levels for public schools. Plus, he said, he again hopes to pursue a viable school choice program that doesn’t break the bank.

Other issues, including Medicaid and mental health care, also could force lawmakers to seek out more creative policy approaches that don’t rely on new funding, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock.

“In order to initiate new programs, we’re going to need to find either savings in other areas of the budget in order to reallocate or, you know, find reductions in expenditures some place,” he said. “That kind of goes without saying. That’s what it will take.”

Education

Although Republican leaders in 2017 were successful in passing a host of conservative policies, one major priority stalled out: school choice.

The plan initially floated by Republicans would have created “education savings accounts” for students, where the per-pupil funding allocated by the state could follow the student to private schools, home schools or other non-public options.

But that bill carried an estimated $240 million price tag. That’s because the state currently does not pay a per-pupil amount for students who go to private schools or home-schools. To begin paying that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in new money.

Dragged down by its cost, that bill failed to gain traction before it ever made it to committee.

“I’m looking at some revenue-neutral options (this year),” said Rogers, who spearheaded last year’s effort. “So from that perspective, there are a lot more people that are at least listening and thinking, ‘Well, if it’s revenue-neutral, then yeah, we’ll take a look at it and see if that’s something that would fit.’”

“Revenue-neutral” is likely to be a common phrase throughout the Statehouse this year. It signifies a bill that creates a new program or project and uses existing revenue streams to do it. Although it can be controversial — opponents often claim such a structure “robs Peter to pay Paul” — Rogers said he expects any school choice bill will need to be revenue-neutral.

To make his education savings account plan revenue-neutral, Rogers said, he’d like to implement a program where public school students — who already are counted in the state’s per-pupil funding formula — could receive a portion of that state money if they leave public school for private schools or home schools. Because the money is already part of the state’s budget, it is considered revenue-neutral.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said Democrats will oppose any move toward education savings accounts or other forms of vouchers, saying those programs undermine public schools.

“We as a caucus have opposed the bills that have been brought forth on the voucher program,” he said. “We believe that Iowa should have a strong commitment to public education and that that commitment has waned over the last seven years.”

But the budget situation also will affect how much the state can afford to raise per-pupil funding. Typically, public school advocates push for about a 4 percent increase.

Last year, the state officials approved a 1.1 percent increase for public schools, totaling about $40 million. The year before, schools received a 2.25 percent increase totaling about $138 million.

This year, Rogers said, the discussion is ranging from no increase to as high as 2 percent.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said that “whatever that number is, it will be a small number. We won’t have the resources to do anything dramatic.”

But again, she said, there are opportunities to “do other things that are just as helpful in the long run” without committing new money.

Rogers and Upmeyer said they hope to discuss extending a statewide sales tax benefiting school infrastructure needs. That could potentially balance out the lower per-pupil increase, said Rogers.

Taxes

Republican lawmakers have said tax reform — specifically tax cuts — is among their highest priorities for the session.

They are adamant that the issue is discussed, though they differ on how expansive they can afford to be.

“There will be those who want to do tax reform regardless of the revenue situation,” said Vander Linden. “There will be those who won’t want to do tax reform regardless of the revenue situation. I think probably most people will be in the camp of, ‘Well, maybe we can do some simplification if we can maintain revenue neutrality.'”

Complicating the issue is federal tax reform, which Republican leaders say will inadvertently raise state taxesbecause of an issue known as federal deductibility.

Iowa is one of only a few states that allow taxpayers to deduct what they paid in federal income taxes from their state tax liability. That creates an inverse relationship with federal taxes. When federal taxes decrease, Iowans make smaller deductions from their state income tax burden, and the amount they owe in state taxes goes up.

Upmeyer said that that creates “an artificial windfall” for the state, and that lawmakers should not look to that influx of new revenue as a way to shore up state finances.

“We’re not going to view that as an opportunity to grow government and spend that money,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re having people keep that money in their pockets and it stays with them.”

She said lawmakers may even look to do away with federal deductibility.

Historically, eliminating that provision from Iowa’s tax code has been politically unpopular; the provision is intended to prevent a “double taxation” on income and doing away with it would effectively create a tax increase for Iowans. But Upmeyer said it may be time to revisit the issue.

Also among the key issues she hopes to discuss as tax reform conversations progress: “modernizing” the sales tax so that it captures more online sales as Iowans purchase more and more goods and services over the internet.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said she hopes Democrats can be a part of the conversation, particularly when it comes to tax credits.

“I think we need to look at our tax credit program to make sure that tax credits are truly giving Iowans a good return on investment, which ones are working, which may need to be increased, which ones maybe need to go away,” she said. “We also should be making sure that if we do work on our taxes this year that they’re fair and they’re transparent and that they truly show Iowa’s competitiveness with our tax system to surrounding states so companies know truly what our tax climate is like here in Iowa.”

For Dix, the key issue is reducing tax rates, he said. He referenced a move in 1997 to reduce rates by 10 percent across the board as a positive move for the state, but he declined to discuss how much he’d like to reduce rates this year.

Medicaid and mental health

Democrats have complained about the state’s transition to privatized Medicaid since former Gov. Terry Branstad initiated the shift in 2016, hiring three private companies to manage benefits and coordinate care for Iowans.

But Republicans recently have begun to acknowledge publicly that the hiccups they thought would subside have continued.

“One of the goals I’d love is to get Medicaid figured out,” Upmeyer said. “It’s been bumpy for too long.”

Last month, AmeriHealth, the largest of those three companies, threw a wrench in the system when it announced it would withdraw from the program. That left 215,000 Medicaid recipients looking for coverage from one of the two remaining companies: Amerigroup and UnitedHealthcare.

In November, officials announced Amerigroup could not handle any of AmeriHealth’s former members. That appeared to mean all 215,000 people would go to UnitedHealthcare, even if that company didn’t have contracts with their care providers.

Then, officials instead said the state would assume oversight of 10,121 former AmeriHealth members who had tried to opt into Amerigroup.

Reynolds said the state is working with Amerigroup until it can build out its capacity to provide care for more people. Until then, Iowans will participate in what the state is calling its “fee-for-service” program.

But Upmeyer said those “bumps” need to be corrected.

“Nearly 40 states in this country have managed care working successfully,” she said. “What are we doing wrong? We just want to figure that out so it’s not the first thing we hear about when we go home. You want that to work.”

She acknowledged there is little money to give to the companies, which have previously complained that they were dramatically underpaid by the state.

Instead, she said she hopes to work with the Department of Human Services to find answers and make the process run more smoothly.

“I think that’s something everybody wants to figure out, no matter which party, no matter where you live,” she said. “And I’m super optimistic, actually, about being successful in that. We’ve got a new governor and she has a new DHS director who has hired a Medicaid specialist who by all reports has a really good track record on making that work.”

Another top priority is access to and quality of mental health care, Dix said. He said a group of Senate Republicans are creating a work group to discuss potential legislation to address the issue.

“There’s a number of Republican senators who view this as one of the must-do things this session,” he said. “And I anticipate that they’ll be working to build a broad consensus on a proposal to accomplish this.”

A December Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that 64 percent of Iowans are dissatisfied with how state leaders are handling mental health care and that 77 percent said it would be a major consideration in how they vote in 2018.

Smith said House Democrats are interested in increasing the number of professionals who serve people with mental health conditions, including nurse practitioners, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists and others.

“We are short of professionals,” he said. “That needs to be fixed by more programs that help people with getting education and moving into rural areas. It also needs to be fixed by changing the reimbursement system.”

Dix acknowledged that “challenges in the budget always exist” and could limit what lawmakers are able to accomplish in relation to mental health.

“But let’s not overlook policies that could in fact make vast improvements without the addition of huge new resources,” he said, though he did not name specific policies. “The last thing we want is to put ourselves in a position where we’re creating an unstable and unpredictable future for Iowans in our budgeting.”

What’s up with the budget?

Revenue generated from taxes continues to grow in Iowa, but slowly.

Since 2016, state officials have on multiple occasions overestimated the rate at which they expect revenue to grow. Legislators then base the state’s spending levels on those higher numbers.

When revenue has failed to keep pace with projections, the result has been budget gaps.

During the 2017 budget year, those shortfalls forced about $118 million worth of mid-year spending cuts to programs and services as well as transfers of about $144 million from state reserve accounts.

Revenue forecasters met in December and again noted that revenue growth is not meeting expectations.

State Budget Director David Roederer said lawmakers likely will have to make cuts of $45 million to $90 million to the current 2018 budget.

“The economy is in a very interesting situation,” Roederer told reporters in December. “We are continuing to grow, and with low unemployment, we usually see personal incomes coming up — and it is starting to come up a little bit, but not just as rapidly as we had first projected. So we are trying to be cautious, but we are also trying to be realistic as to what we think will happen.

That all has implications for the legislative session that begins Monday.

In addition to trims for the year that ends June 30, lawmakers will have to finish paying back all the money they have borrowed from reserve funds. About $111 million worth must be repaid as part of the 2019 budget.

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/05/iowa-legislature-tight-budget-force-creative-policy-2018-session/969915001/

 

 

Thank you,

Bob Kressig

Representative Iowa House District 59

bkressig@cfu.net

www.bobkressig.com

Click here to subscribe to my newsletter

 

 

 

 

On Jan 8, 2018 11:06 AM, “Kressig, Bob [LEGIS]” <Bob.Kressig@legis.iowa.gov> wrote:

James please add to my website

10 issues likely on the agenda in the 2018 Iowa Legislature

William Petroski,bpetrosk@dmreg.com Published 2:00 p.m. CT Jan. 6, 2018

State lawmakers face numerous challenges for the session that begins Jan. 8, 2018. Wochit

Debate is brewing over the state budget, tax reform and abortion rights as the Iowa Legislature prepares to convene Monday for its 2018 session.

As legislators return to the Capitol, other issues that could be on the docket include water quality funding, a repeal of the state’s 5-cent beverage deposit law, reinstatement of capital punishment, penalties for so-called “sanctuary cities,” Medicaid and mental health care, education funding, and sports betting.

The House and Senate will gavel in at 10 a.m. for what Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, describes as “Chapter 2” of enacting a pro-business, conservative agenda to spur economic growth and create good-paying Iowa jobs. Republicans control both chambers, as well as the governor’s office.

“The environment that we are all working in will get more competitive, and we need to embrace that. If you are not doing that, pretty soon your competitor will surpass you,” Dix recently told the Iowa Chamber Alliance, which represents 16 chambers of commerce and economic development groups from Iowa’s largest communities.

Chapter 1 of the Republicans’ plans to restructure state government was written last year when GOP lawmakers delivered on a campaign promise to enact sweeping statutory changes promoted by anti-tax, free-market lobbying organizations; gun rights activists; and evangelical Christians.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, laments much of what happened last session. Some of those changes included arollback of collective bargaining rights for public employees, a nullification of local minimum-wage increases for low-paid workers, changes in family planning programs that blocked funding to Planned Parenthood, and spending reductions in other programs she believes will negatively affect disabled children, pregnant women and others.

“We don’t cut our way to prosperity,” Petersen warned at a Greater Des Moines Partnership legislative forum. She chastised Republicans, saying that after last session “a lot of Iowans think they did a lot of bad things to good people.”

This year’s session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn around April 17, which is when legislators’ daily expense payments end.

All 100 seats in the Iowa House will be up for re-election in November, while 25 of the 50 Senate seats will be on the ballot. Some lawmakers will also face party primary elections in June.

Here is a look at 10 key issues that could face intense debate

  1. BUDGET: State revenue growth has been slower than expected, which means tough decisions must be maderegarding a state budget for the current fiscal year that was already reduced last session. The latest revenue forecast anticipates general fund revenues of about $7.2 billion, up about 2 percent after reserve fund transfers are excluded, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.

State fiscal analysts recently estimated the state faces a shortfall of about $37 million for the current budget year. But state revenue officials reported Friday the impact of federal tax reform could result in a windfall of $16 million in additional state tax revenue because of the impacts of federal tax deductibility. However, the full impact of federal tax reform is still undetermined, and Republican lawmakers say Iowa taxpayers shouldn’t face higher state taxes simply because Congress has reduced federal taxes.

One key decision facing lawmakers is whether they will continue to provide state dollars to “backfill” local property tax cuts approved by the Legislature in 2013 that affect cities, counties and school districts. Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to propose funding for the backfill dollars in her budget proposal, but legislative leaders aren’t making any promises. The most recent payments have been $152 million annually.

  1. TAX REFORM:Republicans have vowed to enacted a “fairer and flatter” state income tax system. But it’s not clear exactly what the plan will look like.A recent memo from Senate Republicanssignaled interest in a proposal that includes reductions to individual and corporate tax rates, slashing the number of tax brackets and an expansion of the sales tax base.

Democrats have repeatedly complained the state’s budget has been starved by hundreds of millions of dollars in tax giveaways to businesses. But business lobbyists defends state tax incentives. They say state tax credits and other incentives have a demonstrated return on investment but should be focused on stimulating economic growth across diverse industry categories.

Tom Sands, president of the Iowa Taxpayers Association, said his organization is urging lawmakers to enact state tax reform in the wake of federal tax reform. But he suggested any final vote on state tax reform is more likely late in the session rather than early to ensure that lawmakers balance the state’s budget. He also noted implementation of tax reform could be staggered over a period of years.

  1. EDUCATION FUNDING/SCHOOL CHOICE:Parents, teachers and school administrators annually plead for more money for K-12 programs, saying it’s important for quality education. Look for lawmakers and Reynolds to make efforts to avoid spending cuts in state aid to school districts, although any increases are likely be minimal.

Meanwhile, community colleges and the state’s three public universities face question marks regarding their funding levels, despite Reynolds’ pledge to develop more skilled workers and highly educated people for a 21st-century Iowa labor force. University and college administrators say they have already tightened their belts and have enacted cost savings, which means further spending cuts could lead to big tuition hikes in the coming years. That could make it harder for many Iowans to obtain post-secondary educations and training to qualify for better-paying jobs.

Supporters of school choice say they will push for several key issues and programs in the upcoming session: These include establishing Education Savings Accounts for parents to pay for their children’s private educations; expanding the state’s tuition tax credit program that funds nonpublic school scholarships; and altering Iowa law to allow for charter schools to be run by private organizations.

  1. WATER QUALITY:Republican leaders predict quick, early action to approve long-term, sustainable funding for statewide water quality projects. Both the House and Senate have developed proposals, and lawmakers say the final version could include pieces of both plans.

The Senate bill would redirect about $12 million in sales tax money that Iowans already pay on their water bills as well as $15 million now used to pay off Vision Iowa project bonds. It would provide funding for projects detailed by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and would be fully funded in 2021.

The House bill would set up a financing structure that would grant priority to groups with multiple stakeholders who come up with water quality improvement projects at a regional watershed level. It would also divert sales taxes imposed on metered drinking water and would ramp up over time until it provides about $26 million annually.

Many minority Democrats opposed majority Republicans’ plans last session to shift money to pay for water quality initiatives, calling it a shell game. They said new tax revenue is needed for water quality, contending Republicans’ plans to rely on existing revenue would require cuts in spending for education and other state programs.

A coalition of environmental and outdoor advocacy groups has repeatedly proposed an alternative approach to raise the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of one cent to fund water quality initiatives and other programs. However, that proposal has been dead on arrival, with many conservative legislators who oppose any form of a tax increase.

  1. MEDICAID/MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES: The state’s shift to private management of the $5 billion Medicaid health care program for 600,000 low-income and disabled Iowans remains mired in controversy. Former Gov. Terry Branstad implemented the changes in an effort to contain soaring health care costs that Republicans contend were unsustainable. But patients and providers are still angrily lodging complaints about coverage and payment problems.

The majority of Iowans do not approve of how Medicaid is being handled by state leaders, according to a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Reynolds has indicated she doesn’t want the Iowa Legislature to intervene by proposing bills to fix Medicaid, but Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, has suggested the patience of GOP lawmakers is wearing thin.

Similarly, nearly two-thirds of Iowans surveyed disapprove of how state leaders are handling mental health issues, the Iowa Poll shows. Critics contend Iowa has far too few resources, including hospital beds and crisis centers for people suffering problems such as psychoses or deep depression.

Iowa’s mental health system has been in flux for several years. Branstad closed two of Iowa’s four state mental hospitals in 2015. He noted that the facilities’ patient load had shrunk significantly, and he contended the state hospitals’ services could be better provided by private agencies. Critics said the state facilities still provided important services, and they say the loss is still being felt in southern Iowa.

Iowa also has recently shifted to a 14-region system of overseeing many mental health services, after decades of having each county oversee those services. Proponents of the shift, including Reynolds, say it allows more efficient and fair distribution of mental health services, including efforts to keep people from becoming so ill that they need hospitalization or wind up in jail.

  1. ABORTION/FAMILY PLANNING: Abortion opponents plan a push for so-called“personhood” legislation that declares life begins at conception; further efforts to cut the state’s ties to Planned Parenthood; and moves to outlaw the sale of fetal body parts.

The 2018 session follows one of the most divisive debates ever on abortion rights at the Iowa Capitol. The past session saw hundreds of pink-clad supporters of Planned Parenthood rallying against Republican-sponsored bills and chanting “Our body, our choice.” At the same time, scores of abortion foes sang Christian hymns and lobbied for passage of legislation they believe will help protect the sanctity of life.

Branstad signed a bill after last year’s session that bans most abortions after 20 weeks. The measure also requires a three-day waiting period for abortions, although those provisions are being challenged in the Iowa Supreme Court. Republican lawmakers also blocked public money for family planning services to abortion providers, which led Planned Parenthood to announce it was closing four of its 12 Iowa clinics.

  1. SANCTUARY CITIES: Iowa’scities and counties would be banned from enacting “sanctuary” policiesthat provide safe havens for undocumented immigrants under a bill that won Senate approval last session and is pending in the Iowa House.

The legislation would bar a local government from receiving state funds if the provisions were violated. This includes requiring law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration detainer requests for people in their custody. In addition, the bill would prohibit local governments from discouraging local law enforcement officers or others from activities related to enforcing immigration laws.

National polling has consistently shown such legislation is popular among the public, but many Iowa lobbying groups have registered against the bill. These opponents include including the Iowa League of Cities, Iowa State Bar Association, Iowa Police Chiefs Association, Iowa County Attorneys Association, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Iowa Catholic Conference, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and others.

Iowa grocers want to quit handling returns of cans and bottles, but the 1978 law establishing beverage container redemptions has been popular with the public and effective in encouraging recyling.William Petroski/The Register

  1. BOTTLE BILL:Grocers and convenience store chains are lobbying hard to scrap the state’s 5-cent bottle deposit lawand replace it with an expanded statewide recycling program. Opponents say the state’s roadsides will be filled with litter if business lobbyists get their way.

Iowa currently recovers 86 percent of its beverage containers, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The law covers all carbonated and alcoholic beverages, and about 1.65 billion containers are redeemed annually in Iowa. The combination of the beverage container law and existing curbside recycling makes Iowa one of the top recycling states in the nation.

If the Legislature repeals the deposit law, the percentage of beverage containers recycled would be expected to drop to the national average of 29 percent, opponents say.

  1. DEATH PENALTY:State Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, says he will seek consideration of Senate File 335, which would reinstate the death penalty for multiple offenses in which a minor is kidnapped, raped and murdered. It’s doubtful his bill can gain enough support to win final passage, and it may not even receive a Senate subcommittee hearing, but any discussion of the issue sparks emotional debate.

Behn told the Des Moines Register he wants to prevent deaths like that of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage, who was abducted from her grandmother’s residence in March 2005 and found slain the next day in a mobile home southwest of Iowa City. The girl had been sexually abused, and two men remain in prison for crimes against her.

Death penalty opponents are vowing a fight if there is a serious push to reinstate capital punishment. They point out that offenders convicted of first-degree murder in Iowa are rarely released on parole; instead they usually die in prison. They also note that Iowa has one of the lowest murder rates in the nation. In 2016, Iowa’s murder rate was 2.3 per 100,000 people, less than half the national average of 5.3 percent.

  1. SPORTS BETTING: The Iowa Gaming Association, which represents the state’s 19 commercial casinos, is asking lawmakers to pass a bill during the upcoming legislative session that would allow sports betting on professional and college sports, said Wes Ehrecke, the association’s president.

Ehrecke’s organization wants the Iowa Legislature to act now in anticipation that the Supreme Court will side with New Jersey in a pending case that could open the floodgates for legal sports betting nationally. A decision by the high court is expected this spring or summer.

How the Legislature responds to the Gaming Association’s proposal is uncertain. Upmeyer said that there are House members on both sides of the sports betting issue, and that she wants to hear more about what Iowans have to say on the topic.

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/06/10-issues-likely-agenda-2018-iowa-legislature/971256001/

 

Tight budget will force lawmakers to get creative on policy in 2018 session

Brianne Pfannenstiel,bpfannenst@dmreg.com Published 6:02 p.m. CT Jan. 5, 2018

State lawmakers face numerous challenges for the session that begins Jan. 8, 2018. Wochit

Republican lawmakers will enter the 2018 legislative session Monday with lofty goals of reforming the tax code, expanding school choice options and shoring up a privatized Medicaid program that has hit numerous bumps in its first years.

But for every new policy, there’s a price tag. And Republican leaders say the reality of the state’s budget situation could dramatically limit their ability to implement sweeping policy reforms this year.

“The availability of revenue is always an issue,” said Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, who chairs the House tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “So if we don’t have money to spend, we are certainly not going to borrow to do those kinds of things.”

Slower-than-expected revenue growth continues to plague the state’s budget; for the second time in as many years, lawmakers’ first task upon entering the state Capitol in January will be to make cuts to the current year’s budget.

Existing commitments are likely to eat up whatever revenue growth is available for the next year’s spending plan, leaving little left over for new priorities and initiatives.

“We have some dollars but not a whole lot,” said House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls. As committee chairman, Rogers oversees the always-contentious effort to set per-pupil spending levels for public schools. Plus, he said, he again hopes to pursue a viable school choice program that doesn’t break the bank.

Other issues, including Medicaid and mental health care, also could force lawmakers to seek out more creative policy approaches that don’t rely on new funding, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock.

“In order to initiate new programs, we’re going to need to find either savings in other areas of the budget in order to reallocate or, you know, find reductions in expenditures some place,” he said. “That kind of goes without saying. That’s what it will take.”

Education

Although Republican leaders in 2017 were successful in passing a host of conservative policies, one major priority stalled out: school choice.

The plan initially floated by Republicans would have created “education savings accounts” for students, where the per-pupil funding allocated by the state could follow the student to private schools, home schools or other non-public options.

But that bill carried an estimated $240 million price tag. That’s because the state currently does not pay a per-pupil amount for students who go to private schools or home-schools. To begin paying that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in new money.

Dragged down by its cost, that bill failed to gain traction before it ever made it to committee.

“I’m looking at some revenue-neutral options (this year),” said Rogers, who spearheaded last year’s effort. “So from that perspective, there are a lot more people that are at least listening and thinking, ‘Well, if it’s revenue-neutral, then yeah, we’ll take a look at it and see if that’s something that would fit.’”

“Revenue-neutral” is likely to be a common phrase throughout the Statehouse this year. It signifies a bill that creates a new program or project and uses existing revenue streams to do it. Although it can be controversial — opponents often claim such a structure “robs Peter to pay Paul” — Rogers said he expects any school choice bill will need to be revenue-neutral.

To make his education savings account plan revenue-neutral, Rogers said, he’d like to implement a program where public school students — who already are counted in the state’s per-pupil funding formula — could receive a portion of that state money if they leave public school for private schools or home schools. Because the money is already part of the state’s budget, it is considered revenue-neutral.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said Democrats will oppose any move toward education savings accounts or other forms of vouchers, saying those programs undermine public schools.

“We as a caucus have opposed the bills that have been brought forth on the voucher program,” he said. “We believe that Iowa should have a strong commitment to public education and that that commitment has waned over the last seven years.”

But the budget situation also will affect how much the state can afford to raise per-pupil funding. Typically, public school advocates push for about a 4 percent increase.

Last year, the state officials approved a 1.1 percent increase for public schools, totaling about $40 million. The year before, schools received a 2.25 percent increase totaling about $138 million.

This year, Rogers said, the discussion is ranging from no increase to as high as 2 percent.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said that “whatever that number is, it will be a small number. We won’t have the resources to do anything dramatic.”

But again, she said, there are opportunities to “do other things that are just as helpful in the long run” without committing new money.

Rogers and Upmeyer said they hope to discuss extending a statewide sales tax benefiting school infrastructure needs. That could potentially balance out the lower per-pupil increase, said Rogers.

Taxes

Republican lawmakers have said tax reform — specifically tax cuts — is among their highest priorities for the session.

They are adamant that the issue is discussed, though they differ on how expansive they can afford to be.

“There will be those who want to do tax reform regardless of the revenue situation,” said Vander Linden. “There will be those who won’t want to do tax reform regardless of the revenue situation. I think probably most people will be in the camp of, ‘Well, maybe we can do some simplification if we can maintain revenue neutrality.'”

Complicating the issue is federal tax reform, which Republican leaders say will inadvertently raise state taxes because of an issue known as federal deductibility.

Iowa is one of only a few states that allow taxpayers to deduct what they paid in federal income taxes from their state tax liability. That creates an inverse relationship with federal taxes. When federal taxes decrease, Iowans make smaller deductions from their state income tax burden, and the amount they owe in state taxes goes up.

Upmeyer said that that creates “an artificial windfall” for the state, and that lawmakers should not look to that influx of new revenue as a way to shore up state finances.

“We’re not going to view that as an opportunity to grow government and spend that money,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re having people keep that money in their pockets and it stays with them.”

She said lawmakers may even look to do away with federal deductibility.

Historically, eliminating that provision from Iowa’s tax code has been politically unpopular; the provision is intended to prevent a “double taxation” on income and doing away with it would effectively create a tax increase for Iowans. But Upmeyer said it may be time to revisit the issue.

Also among the key issues she hopes to discuss as tax reform conversations progress: “modernizing” the sales tax so that it captures more online sales as Iowans purchase more and more goods and services over the internet.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said she hopes Democrats can be a part of the conversation, particularly when it comes to tax credits.

“I think we need to look at our tax credit program to make sure that tax credits are truly giving Iowans a good return on investment, which ones are working, which may need to be increased, which ones maybe need to go away,” she said. “We also should be making sure that if we do work on our taxes this year that they’re fair and they’re transparent and that they truly show Iowa’s competitiveness with our tax system to surrounding states so companies know truly what our tax climate is like here in Iowa.”

For Dix, the key issue is reducing tax rates, he said. He referenced a move in 1997 to reduce rates by 10 percent across the board as a positive move for the state, but he declined to discuss how much he’d like to reduce rates this year.

Medicaid and mental health

Democrats have complained about the state’s transition to privatized Medicaid since former Gov. Terry Branstad initiated the shift in 2016, hiring three private companies to manage benefits and coordinate care for Iowans.

But Republicans recently have begun to acknowledge publicly that the hiccups they thought would subside have continued.

“One of the goals I’d love is to get Medicaid figured out,” Upmeyer said. “It’s been bumpy for too long.”

Last month, AmeriHealth, the largest of those three companies, threw a wrench in the system when it announced it would withdraw from the program. That left 215,000 Medicaid recipients looking for coverage from one of the two remaining companies: Amerigroup and UnitedHealthcare.

In November, officials announced Amerigroup could not handle any of AmeriHealth’s former members. That appeared to mean all 215,000 people would go to UnitedHealthcare, even if that company didn’t have contracts with their care providers.

Then, officials instead said the state would assume oversight of 10,121 former AmeriHealth members who had tried to opt into Amerigroup.

Reynolds said the state is working with Amerigroup until it can build out its capacity to provide care for more people. Until then, Iowans will participate in what the state is calling its “fee-for-service” program.

But Upmeyer said those “bumps” need to be corrected.

“Nearly 40 states in this country have managed care working successfully,” she said. “What are we doing wrong? We just want to figure that out so it’s not the first thing we hear about when we go home. You want that to work.”

She acknowledged there is little money to give to the companies, which have previously complained that they were dramatically underpaid by the state.

Instead, she said she hopes to work with the Department of Human Services to find answers and make the process run more smoothly.

“I think that’s something everybody wants to figure out, no matter which party, no matter where you live,” she said. “And I’m super optimistic, actually, about being successful in that. We’ve got a new governor and she has a new DHS director who has hired a Medicaid specialist who by all reports has a really good track record on making that work.”

Another top priority is access to and quality of mental health care, Dix said. He said a group of Senate Republicans are creating a work group to discuss potential legislation to address the issue.

“There’s a number of Republican senators who view this as one of the must-do things this session,” he said. “And I anticipate that they’ll be working to build a broad consensus on a proposal to accomplish this.”

A December Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that 64 percent of Iowans are dissatisfied with how state leaders are handling mental health care and that 77 percent said it would be a major consideration in how they vote in 2018.

Smith said House Democrats are interested in increasing the number of professionals who serve people with mental health conditions, including nurse practitioners, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists and others.

“We are short of professionals,” he said. “That needs to be fixed by more programs that help people with getting education and moving into rural areas. It also needs to be fixed by changing the reimbursement system.”

Dix acknowledged that “challenges in the budget always exist” and could limit what lawmakers are able to accomplish in relation to mental health.

“But let’s not overlook policies that could in fact make vast improvements without the addition of huge new resources,” he said, though he did not name specific policies. “The last thing we want is to put ourselves in a position where we’re creating an unstable and unpredictable future for Iowans in our budgeting.”

What’s up with the budget?

Revenue generated from taxes continues to grow in Iowa, but slowly.

Since 2016, state officials have on multiple occasions overestimated the rate at which they expect revenue to grow. Legislators then base the state’s spending levels on those higher numbers.

When revenue has failed to keep pace with projections, the result has been budget gaps.

During the 2017 budget year, those shortfalls forced about $118 million worth of mid-year spending cuts to programs and services as well as transfers of about $144 million from state reserve accounts.

Revenue forecasters met in December and again noted that revenue growth is not meeting expectations.

State Budget Director David Roederer said lawmakers likely will have to make cuts of $45 million to $90 million to the current 2018 budget.

“The economy is in a very interesting situation,” Roederer told reporters in December. “We are continuing to grow, and with low unemployment, we usually see personal incomes coming up — and it is starting to come up a little bit, but not just as rapidly as we had first projected. So we are trying to be cautious, but we are also trying to be realistic as to what we think will happen.

That all has implications for the legislative session that begins Monday.

In addition to trims for the year that ends June 30, lawmakers will have to finish paying back all the money they have borrowed from reserve funds. About $111 million worth must be repaid as part of the 2019 budget.

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/05/iowa-legislature-tight-budget-force-creative-policy-2018-session/969915001/

 

 

Thank you,

Bob Kressig

Representative Iowa House District 59

bkressig@cfu.net

www.bobkressig.com

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By | 2018-01-08T16:14:17+00:00 January 8th, 2018|Community, Education, Financial, Health, Jobs|