After months of squabbling, the 84th Iowa General Assembly can call it a legislative session. A consensus budget bill was passed just shy of the 11th hour, preventing the first government shutdown in the state’s history.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had a balanced budget,” said Rep. Steve Olson (R-DeWitt), who has served in the state house since 2003.
The $5.99 billion budget will consume about 97 percent of Iowa’s projected revenue for the next year.
One key issue both parties agreed needed to be addressed, property tax reform, became a casualty of the compromise, as democrats and republicans drastically differed on the preferred approach. Republicans preferred sweeping cuts to help lure businesses to and keep them in the region. Democrats argued that such severe decreases in tax revenue would bankrupt local governments, and wanted to implement a plan they say would help local businesses. Ultimately, the gap between the parties was too wide to bridge, delaying a resolution to what Branstad considers to be one of the state’s most dire needs.
“I’m still hopeful we can get something done for small businesses,” said Sen. Tod Bowman (D-Maquoketa).
Bowman said that the property tax debate would likely continue in a special session as a standalone bill, rather than as part of a more comprehensive budget bill.
Abortion, a historically divisive topic, proved to be the final stumbling block in developing a consensus budget. Republicans wanted to adjust a law in place since 1978 permitting Medicaid dollars to fund abortions in the case of fetal deformity, rape, incest and danger to mother. Republicans argued that public funds should not be spent on abortions.
Federal law requires that Medicaid programs cover abortions in the case of rape, incest or danger to the mother.
A compromise was reached by updating Iowa code to follow federal code.
“Which is the way it was any way, so it really wasn’t a game changer,” Bowman said.
Olson said the language change, while not dramatic, was a positive sign for Iowans who oppose abortion.
“It is a very small step forward,” Olson said.
Education spending was an early point of contention in the budget talks, with Branstad proposing 0 percent allowable growth over a two year period, in an attempt to get the budget on track. Bowman said that Branstad’s proposal was a “starvation diet,” that would damage the quality of education in the state.
Ultimately, it was decided the 0 percent allowable growth would stand for fiscal year 2012, and would increase to 2 percent for fiscal year 2013.
Pre-kindergarten programs, which are funded by the state, were also given a reprieve from the chopping block. Legislators agreed to continue to fund the program, albeit to a lesser degree.
“Thank goodness, due to a lot of people calling in,” the universal pre-kindergarten program remains, said Bowman.