Crafting a final state budget to meet the needs of all Iowans

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE GARY WORTHAN

District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

The first funnel of the 2019 session is March 8. Funnels were created to establish order in the legislative process. There was a deadline in late January for legislators to request individually authored bills. This first funnel requires that a bill has been approved in a policy committee in either chamber in order to remain alive for the session. The next funnel occurs in about three weeks, and will require a bill to have been approved by one chamber and moved through committee in the other in order to remain alive. Exceptions to the funnels include appropriations bills, ways and means bills, and what are termed as committee chair bills.

In order to meet the funnel deadline, this week will be consumed by subcommittee and committee meetings. All budget committee meetings and floor debate are suspended in order for the policy committees to have ample time to move the bills on their agendas. Over the last couple of weeks, I have floor managed four bills through Transportation Committee, a bill in the Labor Committee, and a bill in the Public Safety Committee with at least two more to go. I will remain responsible for the management of these bills through floor debate and approval.

Even though the focus is on policy bills for the next two weeks, work continues on the budget. Last week concluded presentations by departments in our budget subcommittees, so now we are beginning the process of matching our available resources with the needs of those departments. As I chair the Justice Systems budget subcommittee, it is my responsibility to craft a budget that will meet the needs of Iowans as consumers of state services, as well as represent the taxpayers by supplying those services as efficiently and as economically as possible.

The budget process began before the session ever started by assessing revenue and current economic trends, which were then presented to representatives shortly after the session gaveled in. We then began a multi-week process that included establishing our best estimate of the revenue available, how much of a year-end balance would be adequate to allow for contingencies, and then determining our priorities for spending within our established limits. This year, after we agreed on $7.87 billion as available revenue, the House decided that spending 97.45% of ongoing revenue or $7.67 billion, would leave an adequate cushion for the unexpected. As we set priorities within our limit of $7.67 billion our individual committee targets are $52.4 million for Administration and Regulation, $41.1 million for Agriculture and Natural Resources, $41 million for Economic Development, $961 million for Education, $1.94 billion for Health and Human Services, $3.9 billion for State Aid to Schools and Standing Appropriations, and $770 million for Justice Systems.

The $770 million target for Justice Systems is just under a $19 million increase for the budget. $19 million will allow us to increase the number of clerks working in our county clerk of court offices, and bolster the number of juvenile court officers working to keep our youth out of the system. We will also be able to add parole and probation officers who work with offenders to keep them out of prison. We will again add manpower in both the Highway Patrol and the Division of Criminal Investigation, both of which have been my highest priority since becoming the chair in 2011.

Last week the Senate released their targets for the new budget year. Their total spending proposal is flat with FY19 and about $50 million under the House proposal. House Republicans and the Governor are nearly in agreement while the Senate is substantially below both the Governor and the House. The Senate proposal for Justice Systems is over $7 million less than the House number and would essentially eliminate any additional positions in any of the departments we fund. So the negotiations begin, Appropriation Chairs Representative Grassley and Senator Breitbach will resolve the overall target for Justice Systems, and then Senator Garrett and I will work our way through the individual department budgets and propose a budget to the Justice Systems committee. After approval there, the budget will move to the floor in both chambers for approval and on to the Governor. While the process may seem cumbersome, in the end we will have built an efficient budget that meets the needs of all Iowans while respecting the taxpayer. 

The next legislative forum is Saturday, March 16 at 10 a.m. at King’s Pointe in Storm Lake.