Staff Editorial

Statehouse GOP has a chance to surprise critics

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Now the real work begins.

Lawmakers just completed their sixth week in Des Moines, marking the first legislative funnel deadline of the 2018 session. With a handful of exceptions, bills which have not advanced out of committee are dead for the year.

With many legislators’ pet projects and long-shot proposals out of the way, discussion will focus on the big bills which will have real impacts on Iowans.

The day before the legislature convened in January, this editorial board published our legislative priorities. We outlined several goals relating to state finances, education, and health care. We also warned the Republican majority against unilateral governance, and implored them to seek bipartisan consensus on Iowa’s most pressing issues.

“Republicans have the votes to enact their agenda. But the health of our democratic system depends on a willingness to reach across the aisle, when possible, and to make sure Iowans have a full say on actions affecting their lives,” we wrote then.

Several weeks in, we have mixed feelings on the news coming out of Des Moines. Republican leaders have disappointed us on a few issues, but they still have opportunities this year to surprise even the most jaded political naysayers.


Lawmakers are faced with a budget shortfall, since revenue has repeatedly fallen below projections. They are set to approve $34 million in midyear budget cuts, which were approved by the Iowa Senate earlier this month.

That budget cut package is down from a previous $52 million proposal. Lawmakers are wise to spare some key programs from the cuts, including K-12 schools, Medicaid, and local property tax backfill.


However, several vital state functions still will take sizable hits, including $14.56 million for Board of Regents institutions, $6.24 million for the Department of Human Services, and $3.4 million for corrections and prisons.

Those cuts are disappointing and will ultimately prove counterproductive to several of the Republicans’ stated policy priorities, like workforce development and mental health services.


What’s frustrating about the budget cuts is the fact they could have been avoided. Amid years of overly optimistic revenue projections, lawmakers should have taken the opportunity to rethink the state’s generous tax credit programs, which we and many others have called on them to do.

One bill to limit tax credits introduced last year would add an estimated $33.5 million to state coffers in its second full year, according to legislative analysts. That’s almost the precise amount legislators are now looking to slash.

Meanwhile, we learned just this week Gov. Kim Reynolds is putting forth a major tax reform package. It would eliminate federal deductibility, decrease personal income tax rates, and impose sales tax on online retailers.

We support nixing federal deductibility, an outdated provision in Iowa’s tax code which would increase Iowans’ taxes this year, given the federal tax reform plan now in place. However, under the state’s recent inability to accurately predict revenue, we are skeptical of the aggressive cuts to income tax rates.

And while shifting a portion of the state budget from income taxes to online sales tax is an interesting idea, it deserves more public discussion than it’s likely to get before the end of the legislative session.

Instead, Iowans may be best served by a smaller tax reform package this year, followed by a robust debate on taxes and spending during the upcoming campaign season.



Iowans are familiar with partisan showdowns over education funding, which has proved to be a point of fierce disagreement in the Legislature in recent years. Yet this year’s debate is even more complicated, as lawmakers are sparring over the usual education funding increase, in addition to controversial school choice issues.

Republicans in the House and Senate are moving toward an agreement to increase K-12 funding by 1 percent next academic year, totaling about $32 million. That’s less than the 1.5 percent Reynolds called for earlier this year, and well below the 4 percent that superintendents and finance directors say is necessary to maintain their level of services.

Most Iowans agree nearly a decade of inadequate funding increases is threatening the quality of our public schools.

The school funding situation could be complicated even more by school choice bills under consideration in Des Moines. One controversial House bill was pulled from consideration this week, and others have not advanced from their committees, but still could be brought up by legislative leaders later this year.

Republicans have called for creating education savings accounts for students transferring to or starting out in private schools, paid for with the state’s per-pupil funding. That means each education savings account would take dollars from the public school system.

We have yet to see convincing evidence that a voucher-style school choice program would improve outcomes for Iowa students. To the contrary, similar systems in other states suffer under a lack of oversight and accountability. Curiously, school choice advocates are often the same people who demand more oversight and accountability over state spending.

We see room for compromise. The failed House bill would have reduced barriers for new charter schools, which are fully public institutions with greater flexibility in curriculum and teaching practices. The Senate bill on education savings accounts does not include charter reforms.

Charter schools could offer families more educational options, while keeping state dollars in state schools. Republicans and Democrats alike would be smart to focus their education reform efforts there, rather than on an unproven education savings account program.


There was at least one positive development in the final hours before the funnel deadline, as lawmakers advanced bills to support two important school funding sources.

The House Education Committee gave bipartisan approval to 20-year extension of the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education sales tax, and to new transportation funding for school district in need. We hope lawmakers will fastrack both and give school administrators the ability to plan their budgets.


Protecting Medicaid and expanding mental health services consistently rank among the top of Iowans’ policy concerns. However, that hunger for change among voters has not pushed any significant reform proposals to the top of the agenda in Des Moines this year.

The state’s Medicaid modernization effort has been an utter mess the last two years, creating unnecessary challenges for patients who are denied adequate services and providers who are denied adequate reimbursement.

Some stakeholders are calling for a full return to the state-run Medicaid system. There appears to be little appetite for that among Republican leaders, yet it’s clear the state must maintain a role to provide a safety net to the patients who aren’t being served by the managed care organizations.

Republicans should solidify the state’s role in Medicaid services. In doing so, they will demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of all Iowans.

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