Capitol Update for April 19th, 2012

Recap of Week 15

Tuesday was the 100th day of the Legislative Session. Today is the last day the clerks and pages will be with us in the House. We’ve been working hard to wrap everything up and hope to adjourn sometime next week.

Tentative Deal on Total State Spending Reached

Late last week a tentative agreement was reached with the House Republicans and the Governor on total spending for Fiscal Year 2013.  The budget framework allows for joint budget targets to be agreed upon and the final budget to be approved by the Legislature before session adjourns for the year.

The general fund budget will appropriate $6.242 billion for FY 2013.  This is below the December Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) estimate of $6.252 billion in ongoing revenue.  While this number is higher than House Republicans would have preferred, it follows the three budgeting principles of House Republicans:

  •  Appropriates less in ongoing expenditures than ongoing general fund revenue
  •  Does not use one-time funds for ongoing expenditures
  •  Does not intentionally underfund entitlements to allow for additional expenditures

Using the current REC estimates, the FY 2012 budget appropriates only 93 percent of available general fund revenue.  The agreement with the Senate and Governor appropriates only 95 percent of available revenue.  This presents a major victory for the taxpayers because past practice would have been to spend at least 99 percent of available revenue.

Another victory for the taxpayers is the creation of the Taxpayers Trust Fund (TTF).  Under current estimates, the TTF will have $60 million at the end of FY 2012 and another $30 million at the end of FY 2013.  While there is no agreement on how to return the funds to the taxpayers, the fact that it cannot be spent is noteworthy.

In addition, when comparing the total gross ongoing expenditures for FY 2010 and FY 2011 to FY 2012 and FY 2013, the final budgets approved by House Republicans appropriate $180 million less than the last two budgets approved by Legislative Democrats and signed by Governor Culver.  This number does not include over $200 million in salary increases that the departments were forced to absorb.

House Republicans will continue to move a budget forward that sticks to their principles as the end of the 2012 Legislative Session comes to a close.

Senate File 2322 provides for a nonrefundable individual income tax credit for an individual who was a volunteer fire fighter who has met the minimum training standards or certified volunteer emergency medical services personnel for the entire tax year or prorated if part year. The amount of the credit is equal to $50.  The credit is to help compensate the individual for their volunteer service.

The bill passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 96-1.

The estimated credit claims for tax year 2013, the first year the credit is in effect, is a decrease of $910,000.  Fiscal year 2013 impacts are estimated to be zero, with all of the tax year impact falling in fiscal year 2014.  For the following fiscal years, credit claims are estimated to grow an average of 0.8 percent per year as wage growth raises average tax liability.  The bill now goes to the governor for his consideration.

Seeking Compromise on Education Reform

Education reform took one step closer to the Governor’s desk this week.  Through a quick transition, the House pushed the Senate version through subcommittee and committee on Monday, and followed that with a short debate on the floor.  The bill passed, as amended by the House, 54-45.

The new language put forth by the House and sent back to the Senate was a real effort at finding a compromise.

The resulting language the House passed makes some positive steps towards creating a stronger educational system in Iowa and includes:

–        A path forward for competency-based learning

–        Increased opportunities for online learning

–        Annual teacher and administrator evaluations

–        Value-added measures, which help measure student growth

–        A system of accountability for schools

–        Improved and relevant assessments

–        Development of an optional statewide professional development plan

–        An early literacy framework designed to get kids reading at grade level by the end of third grade, including retention to prevent sending children on without the tools for success

–        Great flexibility for school districts with home rule authority

–        Multiple task forces to continue the conversation on education reform.

The latest effort by the House is a good faith move to show the Senate we are willing to come together to the table to find a path towards compromise, while still maintaining elements the House feels are transformational for Iowa’s education system.

June 1 Deadline for Century and Heritage Farm Owners to Apply for Recognition

On Monday, April 16, 2012, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey reminded eligible farm owners that the deadline to apply for the 2012 Century and Heritage Farm Program is June 1, 2012.  The ceremony to recognize the 2012 Century and Heritage Farms will be held at the Iowa State Fair on Tuesday, August 14th.  The program recognizes families that have owned their farm for 100 years in the case of Century Farms and 150 years for Heritage Farms.   The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the Iowa Farm Bureau sponsor the award.

Applications are available on the Department’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov  Applications may also be requested from Becky Lorenz, via phone at 515-281-3645, email at Becky.Lorenz@IowaAgriculture.gov  or by writing to Century or Heritage Farms Program, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Henry A. Wallace Building, 502 E. 9th St., Des Moines, IA 50319.  Farm families seeking to be recognized this year must submit an application to the Department no later than June 1, 2012.

The Century Farm program began in 1976 as part of the Nation’s Bicentennial Celebration and over 17,000 farms from across the state have received this recognition.  The Heritage Farm program was started in 2006, on the 30th anniversary of the Century Farm program, and more than 500 farms have been recognized.  Last year 341 Century Farms and 56 Heritage Farms were recognized.

Public Information Board to Enforce Transparency Passes the House

The House took a huge step forward in government transparency with the passage of Senate File 430. The bill, passing with a vote of 92–7, creates the Iowa Public Information Act and the Iowa Public Information Board.

The board will have nine members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The board can have no more than 3 members from the media and no more than 3 members that represent cities, counties, or other political subdivisions. The board will hire an executive director that is an attorney. Senate File 430 allows the board to:

  • Adopt rules to enforce and implement Chapters 21/22.
  • Issue declaratory orders with the force of law as well as informal advice to any person
  • Receive complaints of violations of Chapters 21 and 22 and seek resolution of those complaints.
  • Request and receive assistance and information from governmental bodies.
  • Examine confidential records as necessary.
  • Issue subpoenas enforceable in court for the purpose of investigating complaints and facilitating prosecution.
  • Issue civil penalties provided for in Chapters 21 and 22.
  • Represent itself in court to enforce or defend its orders.
  • Provide training on Chapters 21 and 22.
  • Prepare annual reports
  • Make legislative recommendations.

Senate File 430 passed the Senate last session with a vote of 49–0. It will now go back to the Senate for further consideration.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Lee Hein

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