Government

Legislators look to temper this year's Iowa budget cuts

Agreement nears on funding issues for K-12 schools in future years

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Republicans who control the Iowa Legislature said Monday they are close to agreeing on a deal to balance the current year state budget without cutting as deeply as a $52 million plan the Senate earlier recommended.

While lawmakers come closer to reaching a compromise on this year’s spending, Gov. Kim Reynolds indicated she’s likely to approve an agreement they already struck to boost state aid for K-12 schools by 1 percent for this coming academic year — less than she wanted. However, the governor said she’s optimistic legislators will help districts in other ways by addressing such issues as transportation costs and extending an existing SAVE penny sales tax for construction needs.

Last month, Senate Republicans proposed the $52 million cuts by June 30 to address a projected revenue shortfall that requires further belt-tightening for state universities and community colleges, courts, human services and economic development.

However, Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Monday “there are a couple (proposed cuts in spending) that I know we’ll need to come down from from our initial deappropriate request” based upon ongoing talks with majority House Republicans and the governor.

For instance, he said, there was concerns proposed cuts to the state Department of Human Services likely would mean the agency would have to lay off social service case workers “and we don’t want that, so we know we’ll have to revise that number downwards.”

Schneider said legislators aren’t convinced the judicial branch would need to close clerk of court offices in 30 counties to absorb the Senate-proposed cuts — as the branch has asserted — but added, “that being said, I do think the number that we initially suggested for the courts will have to come down as well.”

GOP legislators already have said the midyear adjustments will hold harmless K-12 schools, Medicaid and public safety programs.

So Schneider said they likely won’t be able to count on the cushion of an ending balance of $35 million for the state’s $7.2 billion budget. That cushion is now where much of the adjustments would have to be made.

Reynolds last month called for $34.7 million in cuts and adjustments to be made the erase the projected shortfall.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, said House Republicans are “very close” to finalizing their de-appropriations strategy, adding “we’re eager to move forward and I think we’ve made very good progress.”

The Legislature was not in session Monday so members could participate in their local caucuses. But majority Republicans in both chambers plan this week to meet a Thursday deadline for passing a 1 percent boost in state K-12 funding for the next school year and sending it to Reynolds.

Asked at her weekly news conference Monday if she would accept a K-12 state aid increase lower than she had requested Jan. 9, the governor said, “I think we can make it work, but I think it’s part of a larger picture and I don’t think you can talk about it in isolation.”

Reynolds said she has been given “every indication” the Legislature also will address other funding concerns for schools yet his session.

For fiscal 2019, Reynolds had proposed a 1.5 percent increase in K-12 state aid, or $54 million, and statutory flexibility to allow districts to use another $35 million previously earmarked for class-size reduction as they see fit.

She said she believes that a SAVE extension and inequities in transportation and per-pupil funding will be addressed before lawmakers adjourn.

“Education has been and will continue to be a priority of this administration,” she said. “We have demonstrated it’s a priority and I think we’re going to continue doing that moving forward.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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