From surplus to deficit: Families will pay for budget mess

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Budgets are a moral document. They are supposed to reflect the state’s priorities. Years ago, we all understood that to develop Iowa’s economy and grow its population, we needed to invest in education to build our skilled workforce.

We prided ourselves upon fairness and looking out for the state’s most vulnerable citizens — seniors, the disabled, and children. We kept a lean budget while making sure these long-term investments were the top priority. It was a moral high ground understood and agreed to by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Today, that bipartisan commitment on the budget has been replaced by one-party control at the State Capitol and blind approval of tax breaks the state cannot afford. Four years ago, the State of Iowa had a surplus of more than $927 million that is now a $130 million deficit. The deficit is largely driven by uncapped and automatic tax breaks that have increased since Republicans came to power and now top $500 million annually. Those breaks have not produced the economic growth Republicans promised and, instead, have actually slowed the state’s economy.

We did not arrive at this point overnight. Over the past year, non-partisan budget experts cited warning signs. The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) forecast a slowing economy, shortage in skilled workers, and stagnant wages. But rather than acknowledge these red flags, the GOP pushed forward with a political agenda. They abandoned their steadfast fiscal principles to the detriment of Iowans and the benefit of their donors.

As a result, legislative Republicans and the Branstad-Reynolds administration made $120 million in midyear budget cuts to community colleges, public safety, and law enforcement just a few months ago while leaving their massive tax breaks unharmed. It runs counter to Iowans’ sense of fairness and abandons the bipartisan tradition of fending for the state’s most vulnerable.

Then it happened again. Our state budget experts met in March and said the state was in deficit for the second time this year, cutting revenue another $130 million. GOP leaders responded by saying they would borrow from the state’s rainy day accounts to cover the deficit. Most families know this is a careless way to budget. It’s like using your retirement savings to pay your credit card bill.

Iowa would not be faced with a budget deficit today if the GOP had used common sense. When your property taxes increase and your kid’s tuition goes up next year, you are paying for their mistakes. All it takes is a basic sense of fairness and economics to understand wrong from right here. And leaving working families to pick up the tab is wrong.

And it isn’t just the budget. The Branstad-Reynolds administration has broken major promises that affect your family and mine. They promised to raise family incomes by 25 percent but instead lowered the minimum wage for 65,000 Iowans. They promised to create 200,000 new Iowa jobs but instead cut dollars for job training programs. Broken promises that hurt working families.

House Democrats believe we need to restore fiscal discipline and embrace economics that make sense for the average family. We should put people and a skilled workforce before corporate tax breaks. We should listen to nonpartisan economists instead of donors and special interests. We should only spend what the state can afford.

Your family has already been forced to pay for the GOP’s mistakes once this year. Does borrowing money to pay for someone else’s tax breaks actually help your family?

• Rep. Chris Hall (D-Sioux City) is ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.

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