The legislature is just completing the 10th week of session and work is just starting on the budget for next year. There will arguably be winners and losers in that process. In the past I have often spoken of previous state budgets as “non-sustainable.” Unfortunately, this year that is especially true. By rapidly increasing previous budgets to unreasonable growth expectations coupled with the downturn in the economy, there will be many programs that will realize either no growth or actual decreases to the amounts of budgeted dollars. That in turn will cause disruptions to those agencies and programs.

Based on rough estimates, Iowa will face a $778 million budget gap for next year. On Friday, the Revenue Estimating Conference will meet for the first time in 2009. The REC meets quarterly to determine how much the Legislature may spend. If the estimate is lowered from the December amount, Governor Culver will need to re-submit the state budget.

Our government has overspent in recent years and the problem has been made worse by the current recession. Working through the budget should be one of the legislature's top priorities and I am increasingly concerned our budget work will be shoved off to the final hours of the session. If the budget is rushed, we will not be able to go through it line by line to effectively prioritize government spending and find any cost saving areas.

Another casualty of a hurried budget process is a lack of transparency and openness. Every department budget should be thoroughly reviewed, not pushed off until the final days of session. A more careful examination of state expenditures allows legislators to review each appropriation and seek input from Iowans.

The biggest pitfall I see looming ahead is the use of one-time federal stimulus money to fund ongoing state projects. There is serious discussion of using federal money to backfill programs we cannot afford within our state tax rolls. This is a dangerous budget practice that will result in government continuing to grow at a rate that outpaces taxpayers’ ability to fund. By taking one-time dollars to pay for ongoing expenditures we are setting ourselves up for a bigger budget crisis in coming years.

On Tuesday, the Iowa House passed HF 670 on a vote of 76-22. I supported this bill that requires county election commissioners to begin counting absentee ballots the day before a general election. This legislation is the result of elections results being delayed for several days while waiting for the absentee count. The absentee count information cannot be released until the polls close on Election Day.

Always feel free to contact me on any issue before the Iowa Legislature. I can be reached at (515) 281-6055 during the week or by e-mail at

Republican Steve Olson of DeWitt serves in the Iowa House of Representatives. He represents House District 83, which covers portions of Clinton and Scott counties.