State budget cuts are tolerable, for now

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Trimming $110 million from the state budget was never going to be painless, but a compromise between Gov. Terry Branstad and the Republican-led Legislature takes some of the sting away.

The final de-appropriation plan, expected to be approved this week, includes $21 million in cuts to Regent institution and community college budgets. The Department of Education loses $4.5 million. Iowa’s judicial branch will suffer a $3 million reduction in funds. These are not small numbers, but they are smaller than those initially proposed by Branstad.

We would be happier if lawmakers had spared critical funding for corrections and the courts — essential state services that already are operating on a proverbial shoestring. Nor are we thrilled to see the axe fall on funding for the Department of Natural Resources and Public Information Board.

But we think Legislators were wise to ferret out $11.5 million in “departmental reductions” — a line item, not included in Branstad’s proposal, which includes out-of-state travel and purchases.

Also within that grouping is the state’s cultural trust fund. It previously distributed its earned interest to art and culture initiatives throughout the state. Instead, the entire fund — more than $6 million — will be used to stave off cuts in other areas.

Legislators also were right to table a plan to align state tax policy with federal tax breaks.

Without a doubt, these cuts are going to hurt. Some department managers will leave positions vacant in order to meet new budget targets. Others may be forced to lay off workers.

So while we can live with the plan to balance the state’s books this time, we also must return to our call for a more sustainable system. While lower-than-expected revenues created the immediate crisis, multiyear commitments connected to commercial property tax reform have stressed state budgets to the breaking point.

Once they’ve sorted through this year’s mess, lawmakers must give the state’s long list of tax credits and incentives the scrutiny it deserves.

It’s time for a comprehensive review of state tax credits and incentives; legislators must preserve only those that truly and substantively benefit Iowa’s economy.

Iowans deserve a smart, lean and efficient government, and they expect everyone to pay their fair share.

Cutting incentives that aren’t working won’t be painless. But it clearly is necessary.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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