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On March 1, Gov. Kim Reynolds gave her address to the nation on behalf of the Republican Party in response to Democratic President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address.
But before her speech, Democratic state Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City was giving a speech Feb. 28 on the floor of the Iowa Capitol on “the top 15 things Gov. Kim Reynolds will not tell Americans.”
The Fact Checker checks only verifiable claims — so if the senator expressed an opinion or made a statement that can’t be measured, we didn’t check it. We also asked Bolkcom to provide his sourcing for the claims, which he did.
Claim: “Rural Iowa continues to decline: 68 Iowa counties lost population over the last 10 years.”
Though Iowa’s overall population grew 4.7 percent from 2010 to 2020, the growth was centered largely in its urban centers. The other two-thirds of the state — 68 of 99 counties — saw population declines over the decade. Only a handful of rural counties saw population growth, mostly in northwestern Iowa.
Overall, Census Bureau data released in August 2021 showed 80 percent of the growth happening in the state’s four largest counties — a gain of 144,014 people mostly around Polk, Johnson, Linn and Scott counties. Dallas County, west of Des Moines, is the state’s fastest growing and saw an increase of over 50 percent.
An IowaWatch analysis showed that seven out of every 10 of the state’s 923 towns smaller than 5,000 people saw their populations decline or remain stagnant.
Urbanization remains a concern in most of rural Iowa due to its effects like school district consolidation, fewer jobs and impacts on small towns’ abilities to provide public services. It can also impact the ability to get federal funding, which is often doled out based on population.
Claim: “State support for local schools is so low that 81 school districts won’t get even one additional dollar from the state.”
For fiscal 2023, the legislation increased the state supplemental aid to schools by 2.5 percent, or $181 per student. The Legislative Services Agency estimated total state funding for public schools and education agencies would increase by $172 million to about $3.58 billion.
Republican legislators have emphatically refuted claims they have cut funding to education, citing consistent increases every year to state supplemental aid. Critics say that a 2.5 percent increase amounts to an effective cut because it doesn’t keep up with costs.
Budget adjustment funding, which is a mechanism in state aid to help cushion school budgets in districts that are seeing rapid enrollment declines, is decreasing this year, according to Legislative Service Agency documents. The agency’s fiscal note for HF 2316 shows that 81 school districts will be authorized for a total of $8.9 million in budget adjustment funding. In fiscal 2022, even more — $26 million — was authorized for budget adjustments.
Budget adjustment funding is collected through local property taxes, not state funding, according to the agency
With flat or declining enrollment in many of those 81 districts, this all means they will see no increase in their state funding since their enrollments have declined to the point that even a 2.5 percent increase in state aid can’t help.
A budget guarantee provision ensures that districts receive at least 101 percent of their previous year’s funding. However, the last 1 percent of that guarantee is funded solely by local property taxes. The first 100 percent is paid for by a combination of state funding and local property taxes.
This issue goes hand-in-hand with the challenges described in the claim about rural Iowa’s decline.
Grade: B. While it’s true that 81 school districts will not see an increase in funding, those districts have shrunk. Stagnant funding, which is based on the number of students in a school district, is a natural consequence of lower enrollment.
There’s plenty of room for debate on the Iowa Legislature’s support of public education growth, but the link between public education support and the decline of these mostly rural school districts, despite increased state aid, is tentative.
Claim: “Despite the increasing frequency of massive flooding and severe storms, Gov. Reynolds is a climate change denier.”
In support of this claim, Bolkcom cited an opinion piece from the Des Moines Register by Jeff Biggers, founder of the Climate Narrative Project. He also cited an Associated Press article about Reynolds’ refusal to allow Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to join 21 other states who were suing the Trump administration over a policy that relaxed regulations on coal-fired plants.
“While I think it’s a factor, I think it’s over stated,” Reynolds said of climate change and its reported effects in a 2018 debate, according to the Daily Iowan. “I think we’re (Iowa) working hard every day to do our part, especially when it comes to renewables (wind, ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic).”
The governor’s task force on carbon sequestration was devoid of any representatives from environmental groups, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported in June 2021.
The Iowa GOP Platform for 2020 does explicitly state that the party opposes “all mandates associated with alleged global warming, or climate control,” but the governor and her party are not the same entity — and this claim was explicitly naming Reynolds a climate change denier.
Grade: C. There are some reasonable inferences that can be made about where Reynolds stands on climate change, and Reynolds herself said she believed the effects of climate change were “overstated.” But altogether, they have not amounted to strong or explicit denials.
Claim: “(Reynolds) actually believes Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.”
Getting into what a politician believes, rather than what they have said or done on the record, can be difficult to prove or disprove.
“Gov. Reynolds wants it both ways. She has spent most of her time continually raising questions about the integrity of our elections even though no significant problems have been found,” Bolkcom told The Gazette after his Feb. 28 speech.
On Dec. 10, 2020, Reynolds released a statement saying she would have supported Iowa joining a lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General seeking to contest election results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia.
“As I have said all along, President Donald Trump, his campaign, and supporters have every right to pursue lawful, legal action in the courts. The American people deserve a fair and transparent election,” she said.
Reynolds waited until two months after the election to concede President Biden was legitimately elected.
“I think he is legitimately elected. I do believe though that there are enough concerns about the integrity of the election process, so I think it benefits everybody to take a look at some of these things that were questioned and put them to bed or just find the answers. I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Reynolds told WHO TV in Des Moines. “People need to have confidence in the election process, and it needs to be self-evident. They can’t just be told that it’s safe and secure. We just need to be able to answer some of those questions.”
In support of his claim, Bolkcom also cited an instance at a Trump rally in Iowa last October where she did not correct the record after Trump spoke at length about presidential election fraud.
Grade: D. Even with concerns raised by Reynolds about election fraud, it’s not completely accurate to say, in present tense, that she believes Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. This claim may have had more merit if it had been made before January 2021. To say so now is inaccurate.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate or officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne and Michaela Ramm. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Elijah Decious.