August Newsletter 2013

Auditor Releases Review of FY 2014 Budget

State Auditor Mary Mosiman released her first review of the FY 2014 state budget on Monday, finding that the state’s fiscal position had greatly improved over the past three years. The Auditor found that the FY 2014 budget “reflects a continued focus on long-term sustainability of services instead of thinking about the next year. For the first time in years, Iowans have a budget that does not spend more than it takes in on an ongoing basis”.

Using accounting principles that differ from what the Legislature is bound by through the Iowa Code, the Auditor determined that the FY 2014 budget spends $1.00 for every dollar of revenue coming in. This is a significant step, as it marks the first time in years that the Auditor’s office has determined that the state budget lives within its means.

With the good news, the Auditor continued her predecessor’s tradition of raising issues with how state funds are accounted for. This year, the Auditor expressed concern about so-called transparency shifts. This is taking specific revenue sources and expenses, and placing them in accounts other than the General Fund. Although not specifically mentioned by the Auditor, the largest part of this is how tobacco taxes are used. Instead of being deposited in the General Fund and spent on anything, all of the tobacco tax revenue is now being used to pay for health care expenses in Medicaid.

Another point of disagreement is how the state pays for its share of federal disaster assistance, also known as performance of duty. While the federal aid comes very quickly, the bill to the state can take years to arrive. Several years ago, the Legislature decided that payment of the state’s share of disaster assistance was an appropriate use of the Economic Emergency Fund. The Iowa Code was amended to permit this use of the Fund, but the Auditor’s office still contends that this is expenditure shift.

In FY 2014, the $36 million paid for performance of duty was the only expenditure shift identified by the Auditor. This is a remarkable turnaround from FY 2011, when the Auditor’s office identified almost $700 million of shifted expenses.

Overall, the Auditor’s review confirms what many have said. The past three years has seen a change in the budgeting culture of Iowa. By putting the family budget ahead of the state budget, Iowa’s financial house is back in order.

Iowa’s Economic Indicators Show Positive Movement

Iowa’s Department of Revenue released its June results of the Iowa Leading Indicators Index, and it showed that it rose from 106.4 in May to 106.5 in June. This follows a trend of growth from January, when the indicator was only at 106.1. The report considers eight separate categories, or indicators to determine the economic outlook. These include: ‘agricultural futures profits index’, ‘average weekly manufacturing hours’, ‘diesel fuel consumption’, ‘initial unemployment insurance claims’, ‘Iowa stock market index’, ‘national yield spread’, ‘new orders index’, and ‘residential building permits’. Of these eight, six contributed positively toward June’s number, while only ‘building permits’ and ‘agricultural futures profits’ were negative.

Education Jobs Board Goes Online

A provision in this year’s Education Reform bill became reality this week when the Department of Education put its new education jobs board website online. The website, TeachIowa.gov, will be a central repository for education-related job openings available across the state. The effort is meant to make finding a job in Iowa easier, thus attracting more talent to the state.

The bill, House File 215, required the department to establish a system online where education jobs are posted for school districts, charter schools, AEAs, the DE, and accredited nonpublic schools. All are required to post their job openings on the site, except for nonpublics for which it is optional. The system is not meant to prohibit an employer from advertising and recruiting outside of this system, from using another method of advertising or tracking applicants, nor provide the department with any authority in the hiring process of any employer.

For anyone interested in seeking out education jobs in the state, visit: http://www.teachiowa.gov.

FUNDS AVAILABLE FOR WATER QUALITY PRACTICES

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced today that cost share funds are available to help farmers install nutrient reduction practices. The initial practices that are prioritized for funding this fall are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fertilizer.

“These funds are available to help farmers take steps this fall to reduce nutrient losses,” Northey said. “This is the first step of implementing the Iowa Water Quality Initiative and we have a lot more work to do, but we are excited to start working with farmers to get voluntary science-based conservation practices on the ground.”

The cost share rate for farmers planting cover crops is $25 per acre and for farmers trying no-till or strip till is $10 per acre. Farmers using a nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer can receive $3 per acre.

Any farmer not already utilizing these practices can apply for assistance. Farmers are only eligible for cost share on up to 160 acres.

Farmers can contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District office to apply.

“By allowing farmers to try new practices on a limited number of acres at a reduced cost we want to showcase the benefits of these practices and encourage farmers to incorporate them into their operation,” Northey said.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship received $3 million in one-time funding to support statewide science-based water quality practices. The Department has set aside up to $1.8 million that will be available to support these practices this fall. The funds can be used over the next five years and it is anticipated additional rounds of funding will be available that will include assistance for additional nutrient reduction practices, including buffers, bioreactors, wetlands, and others listed in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

NEWS FROM DISTRICT 96

On August 15th, I attended the awards ceremony at the Iowa State Fair that recognized Environmental Farm Leaders. Sixty-two Iowa farmers and farm families were recognized for their commitment to healthy soils and improved water quality. The awards are sponsored by the Iowa Governor’s office, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The award recognize farmers who serve as local leaders in environmental stewardship by utilizing a variety of techniques and best management practices. Examples include conservation tillage, restoring wetlands, installing grass waterways and using precision agriculture, among other things.
Award winners received a signed certificate from Gov. Terry Branstad and a metal sign donated by Monsanto commemorating the honor. Hagie Manufacturing hosted a catered lunch in honor of the winners, as well.

Eric Wahl and Wahl Farms of Monticello received an award this year. Congratulations to Eric and thanks for his leadership in the area of soil conservation.

It’s hard to believe the school buses are running and summer is fast coming to an end. Keep an eye out for the little ones as they go to school. Never pass a stopped school bus-it is the law.

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 (319) 480-1997.

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