Capitol Update for May 14th, 2015

House Moves Health and Human Services Budget

On Wednesday, the House moved the FY 2016 HHS budget.  For FY 2016, the House bill spends $1.8543 billion on the Department on Aging, Department of Public Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Human Services.

Over two-thirds of the funds allocated in this budget are dedicated to Medicaid.  Once again, the state is funding a higher share of Medicaid than last year.  The change in the Medicaid match rate means Iowa has had to increase its funding to the program by $276 million since FY 2011.  This change over the past few years has limited our ability to address a variety of issues within Medicaid, including rate structures.  However, the House budget was able to provide additional funding for nursing homes.

The bill maintains funding for the Autism Support Program at $3 million in fiscal year 2016. This program began two years ago.  The purpose of the program is to provide specialized treatment to children with autism. The bill creates financial grants for those higher education students who are enrolled in Iowa-based programs that will lead to certification as a behavior analyst or assistant behavior analyst.   This will help bring qualified providers into the state.

The bill includes an agreement that was made to allow services to continue at the MHI’s at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant through the end of calendar year 2015.  During this time, DHS and the local communities will work to identify and develop new service programs that would be operated in those facilities starting in 2016.

Elimination of Community College Levy Referendum Heads to Governor

This week the House passed Senate File 486 by a vote of 95-3. The bill, under certain qualifications, eliminates the referendum for the facilities property tax levy and the equipment replacement and program sharing property tax levy for community colleges. The bill also provides for a reverse referendum if the voters of a merged area wish to put the issue back on the ballot.

Senate File 486 will save community colleges statewide an average of $100,000 annually in election and promotion costs. The levies generate approximately $9.2 million in FY15 and $11.6 million in FY16.

Current Iowa law provides that in addition to a merged area’s property tax levy, the voters in a merged area may vote a facilities property tax levy not exceeding 20 and one-fourths cents per $1,000 of assessed value for up to 10 years. This money can be used to purchase grounds, construct buildings, and pay debts contracted for the construction of buildings.

Current Iowa law also provides that in addition to a merged area’s property tax levy of $0.03 per $1,000 of assessed value for equipment replacement, the voters of a merged area may approve a tax (in excess) if the additional tax does not cause the total rate to exceed a rate of $0.09 per $1,000 of assessed value. This excess revenue has to be used for purposes of program sharing between community colleges or for the purchase of instructional and the approval lasts for 10 years.

Senate File 486 changes that process to allow eliminating the votes on these taxes if they have already been successful in two consecutive elections, and the tax has been imposed for at least 20 consecutive years. The bill then allows the board of directors of a merged area to pass a resolution to impose the tax at the same rate for a period not to exceed ten years.

Senate File 486 also provides for a mechanism that the voters of a merged area can utilize to get the issue back on the ballot. If the board of directors of a merged area receives a petition signed by at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast at the last preceding election on the levy issue, it must direct the commissioner of elections to put the question back on the ballot. If the tax is voted down, the board may not impose the levy for any fiscal year beginning after the expiration of the period of time for which the tax was last approved.

The bill will now be send to the Governor for his consideration.

IDALS Secretary Northey Announces Statewide Cost-Share Available for Water Quality Practices

On Tuesday, May 12, 2015, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued a press release in which Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced that funds are available to help farmers install nutrient reduction practices.  Practices eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fertilizer.  The cost share rate for first-time  users of cover crops is $25 per acre, no-till or strip till are eligible for $10 per acre and farmers using a nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer can receive $3 per acre.  Any farmer not already utilizing these practices will receive priority consideration for this assistance.  Farmers that have used cover crops in the past may be eligible for $15 per acre for cover crops.

Farmers are eligible for cost share on up to 160 acres.  The funds will be made available in July, but farmers can immediately start submitting applications through their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.  Farmers are also encouraged to visit their local Soil and Water Conservation District office to inquire about additional opportunities for cost share funding through other programs offered at their local SWCDs.  Secretary Northey further added–“As farmers are busy planting, we wanted to get the announcement out as soon as possible so our staff and partners can prepare to sign-up interested farmers if there are rain delay or as field work is wrapped up.”  The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship received $4.4 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative in fiscal 2015 and this amount is also in both version of the FY 2016 IDALS, DNR, & EFF appropriation bill, Senate File 494.  These funds will allow IDALS to continue to encourage the broad adoption of water quality practices through statewide cost share assistance as well as more intensive work in targeted watersheds.

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 (319) 480-1997.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

 

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