JOHNSTON — Iowa Democratic legislative leaders were encouraged by the shared priorities Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed in her Condition of the State speech to them last week, but at the same time they were disappointed by issues the GOP governor didn’t address.
“She did talk a lot about bipartisanship, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to work on several issues together,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said about the Tuesday address from the governor. “There were a lot of things in the governor’s speech that Democrats can get behind. So I’m hoping we’ll be able to find areas to work together on.”
Petersen and House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, speaking on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” on Friday, agreed Democrats should be able to support Reynolds’ call to implement the mental health and workforce programs lawmakers unanimously approved a year ago and to start the process of amending the state Constitution to restore felons’ voting rights.
However, the minority leaders were quick to add they believe the governor should increase her funding requests for mental health, especially to establish a children’s mental health system.
They’d also like to see more than a 2.3 percent increase in K-12 school funding.
“We’re pleased that that’s where the governor is starting at,” Prichard said about her request for about $93 million in new funding for local schools to bring the state’s total K-12 spending to $3.4 billion next year, or more than 40 percent of the annual general fund budget.
Democrats are advocating for at least a 3 percent because in recent years local districts have had to make cuts in staffing and programs.
“It’s because they’re not getting the support and the funding that they need from the state,” Prichard said. “ We’ve gone on what is called budget guarantees, where we basically have shifted the tax burden and the funding burden for local districts to local property taxpayers and local taxpayers.
“The state has to do its part.”
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Prichard also was concerned that Reynolds didn’t lay out any plan to address what he sees as inadequacies that continue in the state’s privately managed Medicaid program.
“I was listening specifically for specific proposals that would fix what I see,” he said. “I was disappointed I didn’t hear specific things to address those concerns. We would like to see some dramatic changes in the Medicaid privatization system. We’d like to see accountability restored. We’d like to see services restored.”
Reynolds made only a passing reference to the $5 billion-a-year program that costs the state $53 per second.
“This Medicaid system is not working,” Prichard said, adding that he hears stories from Medicaid service providers — dentists, chiropractors, therapists and others — who are not getting paid.
“It’s having a horrible effect, particularly in rural Iowa” where providers can’t spread the costs over a large client base, he said.
It’s not any better for urban Iowans and their Medicaid providers, Petersen said.
“Iowans in communities across our state are still seeing the problems with Medicaid, with their providers not getting paid on time or in full,” she said. “And if providers shut their door to Medicaid patients they may shut their door to all Iowans for health care.”
“Iowa Press” may be seen at noon Sunday on IPTV and online at IPTV.org.
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