On Wednesday, July 8, the Clinton Herald published an article titled “Iowa legislature reduces funding to courts.”
The headline alone is misleading, but the article, based on a letter signed by State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio, fails to paint a complete picture of the funding allocated to the court system and completely ignores the task of funding state government amid economic uncertainty in the middle of a global pandemic.
Coming into the end of the legislative session after a three-month suspension, the legislature’s main goal was passing a budget for the next fiscal year. When looking at the budget, we wanted to pass something that would fund all our priorities and necessary government functions, while also being responsible and make financial promises the state was able to keep. When Democrats were last in charge of the state’s budget and had to deal with a similar economic impact to their budget, it resulted in multiple across the board budget cuts. The largest of these budget cuts was a 10 percent cut to K-12 education.
Republicans have spent the last several years budgeting carefully and responsibly, and it is because of these budgeting practices we could pass a budget in the face of so much economic uncertainty and still fund a nearly $100 million increase to K-12 education. The budget also provided stable funding for many other priorities, like community colleges and $181 million for the judicial branch.
That budget bill isn’t the only mechanism that provides funding for the judicial branch. If you are only comparing one budget bill to another budget bill, then yes, there was a reduction of $500,000 to the judicial branch. What Mr. Nuccio’s letter and the Clinton Herald’s article doesn’t tell you is there is a separate bill, SF 457, that provides an additional $2 million in revenue to the judicial branch by equalizing some fines and fees related to criminal behavior. Only in government does an increase in funding get called a “cut.”
It is difficult to say how COVID-19 will affect state revenue in the future and what the budget could look like in future years. Even so, the legislature provided not only stable and responsible funding, but the judicial branch will have received additional money compared to last year. Further, the legislature made changes to improve the technology the judicial branch uses and make the court system more accessible to Iowans. I’m proud of the budget passed at the end of this legislative session, and I would hope at the very least the judicial branch would be more transparent and honest with the Iowans it serves.
Chris Cournoyer, R-Le Claire, represents District 49 in the Iowa Senate.