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Branstad approves $7.3 billion state budget

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DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad, slated to become U.S. ambassador to China this month, OK’d his final state budget Friday by approving a $7.269 billion spending plan for fiscal 2018, likely his final bill action as governor.

Branstad capped his 23rd legislative session as governor by taking action on the final 10 bills on his desk before signing the budget bill, with few changes in the plan sent him by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“When you look at the volume and diversity of policy issues that were addressed this year, I am proud to say this has been one of the most significant and productive sessions in our history,” Branstad said.

“We have a relatively low volume of item-vetoes, demonstrating the success of working together with the House and Senate to implement policies to make Iowa more competitive and prosperous,” he added. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done this year.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will become Iowa’s first female governor after Branstad resigns, also praised the work of majority Republicans who control both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate, saying the “significant actions” taken this session would make Iowa “an even greater place to live, work and raise a family.”

“There is no doubt that we have made Iowa more competitive, and I’m eager to get to work with the Legislature next year to continue growing Iowa’s future,” she said in a statement.

'Broken promises'

Not everyone shared that view.

Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, ranking House Appropriations Committee members, said majority Republicans failed taxpayers in this year’s budget process.

“Lt. Gov. Reynolds and Gov. Branstad missed a huge opportunity to listen to Iowans and correct the mistakes of GOP lawmakers,” Hall said in a statement.

“The GOP budget means students will be paying higher tuition, fewer at-risk kids will be able to attend preschool and homeowners will pay higher property taxes,” he said. “Iowans have every right to be frustrated with the broken promises Republicans made to the people of Iowa this session.”

Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa, criticized the Branstad-Reynolds administration for “failed” budget choices that “severely underfund critical public services and priorities” while authorizing $150,000 for Reynolds’ transition to the governorship.

"Instead of helping move her boxes a few feet down the hall, that transition budget could have meant three weeks of clean water in central Iowa, books for 157 students at the University of Iowa, or school supplies so 300 teachers wouldn't have to pay out-of-pocket to provide the best learning environment possible,” Sinovic added.

Little increase

Next fiscal year’s $7.269 billion general-fund budget is an increase of $9 million, or 0.12 percent over the current fiscal year’s spending after an $88.2 million “de-appropriation” passed earlier this year.

The new budget is $28.1 million below the expenditure limitation, with a projected ending balance is $106.9 million with reserve funds estimated to total $$625.1 million — which is $112 million below the statutory 10 percent maximum, according to the Legislature Services Agency.

Cuts to health

The $3.73 billion standing appropriations bill includes a 1.11 percent boost in state aid to K-12 schools that totals $40 million. It also includes funding to begin paying back the $131 million borrowed from the state’s cash reserve to cover a projected budget shortfall this fiscal year.

Another major provision of the $7.269 billion budget is $1.77 billion for health and human services. That’s 1.5 percent, or $27.9 million, less than the current year’s revised spending and about $70 million below the amount budgeted for this fiscal year before midyear budget cuts.

Within that spending plan, majority Republicans set aside $3 million to fund women’s health care clinics that do not offer abortions. The money would pay for contraceptives, exams and other reproductive health services for Medicaid patients. GOP lawmakers rejected federal dollars to avoid funding services at Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa.

Suzanna de Baca, president/CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, called the action to defund her health agency a “shocking and outrageous” political act that will hurt thousands of Iowans with “devastating” short- and long-term health consequences.

“In light of this news, we are turning over every rock, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ’t,’ to explore our options to defend our mission and patients,” de Baca said in a statement. “We will do all we can to keep our health centers open in as many communities as possible, and we will continue to provide high-quality care to as many patients as possible.”

Universities cut

The fiscal 2018 general-fund budget also contains a scaled-back $908.4 million for higher education, the Iowa Department of Education and other state education functions. House File 642 included 6 percent reductions for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University and about a 3 percent cut for the University of Northern Iowa for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The $98.4 million infrastructure budget bill includes $73.9 million for the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, $10 million for the Technology Reinvestment Fund, $12 million for the State Bond Repayments Fund, $760,000 for the Revenue Bond Capitals Fund, $5.2 million for water quality and $3 million for the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure grants.

In addition the budget bill directed state officials to identify state facilities that could be sold to find revenue for maintenance needs, but Branstad used his item-veto to remove that directive.

Other budget bills approved by the governor provided $559 million budget for justice systems and $178.8 million for the judicial branch to operate the state’s court system.

Policies OK'd

Among other policy proposals Branstad accepted in the budget bill were changes:

  • Requiring law enforcement agencies to indefinitely retain sexual assault evidence kits.
  • Repealing a requirement that state buildings dedicate no less than one-half of 1 percent of construction costs to fine arts elements.
  • Requiring businesses selling alternative nicotine and tobacco “vaping” products to collect state sales tax and not sell to anyone under age 18.
  • Requiring county auditors to arrange candidate names on the ballot in descending order based on previous election results.
  • Closing a loophole in Iowa’s gun-permit application that allows sheriffs to continue asking permit applicants about their criminal background.
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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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