Recap of Week Four

Work Begins on Expenditure Limitation Constitutional Amendment

Subcommittee meetings have begun on HJR 2, the constitutional amendments to limit state spending to 99 percent on on-going revenue.  HJR 5 would place two amendments on the ballot for Iowa voters regarding the Legislature’s power to tax and spend.

The first amendment limits the size of the annual state budget to 99 percent of the Revenue Estimating Conference’s December estimate of ongoing revenue.  Any ending balance puts into the Taxpayers Trust Fund, so they can be returned to Iowans.  The amendment also requires any bonding approved by the Legislature to receive a two-third’s vote of both houses.

The second amendment requires the Legislature to approve any tax increase by a 60 percent vote of each house.  Passing the amendment makes it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes or issue bonds, and it prevents the Legislature from “notwithstanding” current law so they can spend more money than the state has.

Some under the golden dome would like to rewrite history and portray 2007-2010 as a time of fiscal discipline.  But Iowans know from those tough times that their elected officials can get the state into money trouble when they have ways to spend more than what is taken in.  Adoption of these amendments brings real fiscal discipline to state government and help protect the family budget.

Mental Health Transition Fund Bill Starts Moving

The House Appropriations Committee commenced this year’s efforts on mental health redesign with consideration of a bill providing transition funds to a number of Iowa counties.  The bill is likely to be the first of a series of proposals continuing the efforts to bring Iowa’s mental health system into the 21st century.

When the Legislature passed mental health redesign in the last session, there was an understanding that some counties may have trouble in Fiscal Year 2013 paying for non-Medicaid services.  The bill moved responsibility and funding for the Medicaid services to the state, which meant counties did not have those funds to help cover the non-Medicaid services.

A substantial amount of time and effort was made by legislators and staff to identify an amount that counties would need during the one-year transition to the new system.  But, they were unable to come up with a reliable number.  Instead of appropriating an amount of funds without confidence that it was the right amount, legislative leadership committed to a process to identify the number during the interim.

The Mental Health Redesign bill (SF 2315) created a transition fund process for FY 2013.  Counties that faced funding shortfalls in FY 13 due to the state assuming responsibility for the Medicaid costs applied this fall to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for additional funding to serve as a bridge to the new system in FY 2014.  Thirty-two counties applied to the Department for funds.  DHS issued a report in December that gave the Legislature three scenarios for possible funding.

The first option would provide $11.6 million to 26 counties who faced having a negative mental health fund balance at the end of FY 2013.  Option 2 would provide $3.8 million to 14 counties that would have a negative fund balance and no ability to pay what was owed for unpaid bills.  And option 3 would provide $1.4 million to just three counties to pay for non-Medicaid services that could not be funded this year.

After significant discussion, the decision was reached by leadership of the House and Senate to go with the first option.  By providing this level of funding will allow a number of counties to start in the redesigned system with no outstanding bills.

As a condition of receiving these funds, the qualifying counties have to pay off their outstanding Medicaid bills by the end of FY 2013.  Since the counties would be receiving funds that have federal restrictions on their use, counties would be required to comply with any audit requirements.  For the counties that applied but didn’t qualify or didn’t apply at all, they can pay their Medicaid bills by the end of FY 2013 or enter into a payment plan with DHS to clear the books by the end of FY 2014.

Recap of Week Four

The House passed its first bill of session this week, which the Senate also passed and was sent to the Governor. The bill makes changes to the Iowa tax code to permanently extend certain credits and extensions for Iowans after Congress passed the “fiscal cliff” American Tax Payer Relief bill last month. It passed both chambers unanimously.

Insurers from across the state came to the Capitol Wednesday for Insurance Day on the Hill. I met with Scott DeSousa and Terry Friedman of Dyersville to discuss insurance issues and concerns. I ran a bill in the state government committee that would remove the straight party voting option on election ballots. Removing the option would allow voters to do more research and get to know candidates better to make more informed decisions.

I also filed my first bill of the session that would extend the deadlines for school boards to set budgets if the legislature doesn’t pass allowable growth on time. The straight party voting bill is HF 13 and my bill is HF 141. You can look at these bills by visiting the legislative web site at http://www.legis.iowa.gov. On the left side of the home page, there is a bill search. Type in the bill number you are inquiring about (ex. HF 141) and click submit.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is encouraging eligible farm owners to apply for the 2013 Century and Heritage Farm Program.  The program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Farm Bureau and recognizes families that have owned their farm for 100 years in the case of Century Farms and 150 years for Heritage Farms. If you would like to apply, contact the Secretary of Agriculture at its website at http://www.IowaAgriculture.gov or me for more information.

This weekend I will be back in the district for meetings. Friday morning Sen. Zumbach (Ryan) and I will visit with Diane Brecht at the Penn Center to discuss mental health reform. That afternoon I will be in Monticello for the Jones County Economic Development meeting. Next Saturday, February 16th, I will be in Monticello for an open forum in the Monticello City Council chambers. It starts at 9 AM and is open to the public. All are welcome.

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.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-7330.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

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