116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Iowa GOP is the party of big local government.
Law enforcement sucks up a huge portion of local government revenue in Iowa. In all 10 of the state's largest cities, the police department claims a bigger portion of the general fund than any other department. A bill in the Iowa Legislature seeks to ensure that stays the same forever.
House Study Bill 230 would severely penalize local governments that try to modernize their police budgets. The GOP-sponsored bill threatens withholding state funds from cities and counties that reduce law enforcement spending. The bill provides exceptions for local governments that proportionately reduce the rest of their budget, or that seek permission from unelected state bureaucrats.
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the proposed policy at her Condition of the State address in January. The governor put her plan in the national context of riots and violence against police, meant to stoke fear of creeping lawlessness.
'We should never be afraid to talk about ways to improve policing, but there will be no talk of defunding the police here. Our men and women in blue will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Reynolds told legislators gathered in the Statehouse.
With talk like 'no talk of defunding police,” I'm a little surprised that my fellow Republicans aren't seeking an outright ban on city council members and county supervisors even discussing reduced funding. It would fit in with their 'free speech” agenda, which includes regulating school curriculum, restricting conversations on gender identity and withholding tax breaks from tech companies that don't bend to the state's whims.
Companion bills to bar funding decreases for police departments advanced from House and Senate subcommittees this week with Republican support. They're being considered individually, taken out of a broader justice and policing bill Reynolds initially envisioned.
The thing is, though, there is no serious discussion of defunding police at the local government level anywhere Iowa.
Even in my home of Iowa City - the most progressive jurisdiction in the state, and one of few taking police reform seriously - the plan is to increase law enforcement spending, not reduce it. The proposed budget includes a 2.5 percent increase to cover raises and fund new civilian positions. Republicans in the Capitol are lashing out against a straw man at city hall.
A wiser conservative movement would recognize the threat this type of mandate poses to our values. Modern police departments - with their runaway spending and unduly powerful public sector unions - are totally incompatible with the ideals of limited government.
Reynolds' police funding mandate stems from the same big-government instincts that have caused the federal law enforcement apparatus to balloon in recent decades. A wiser conservative movement would be doing precisely the opposite - encouraging local governments to right-size their law enforcement programs by developing smarter and more efficient ways to deliver public safety services.
Reynolds said she's not afraid to talk about 'ways to improve policing,” but only if local taxpayers continue shell out tens of millions of dollars each year for police.
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