Iowa GOP majority Senate lowers state budget cuts to $34 million

Reductions now closer to governor's recommendation

The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Senate Republicans approved a measure Thursday cutting $34 million — not the $52 million earlier proposed — to erase a projected shortfall and leave an estimated $18.4 million cushion when the fiscal year ends June 1.

Under Senate File 2117 — which now goes to the Iowa House for consideration after a 29-21 vote — higher education, human services, corrections and the courts take the biggest of the hits. But the revised de-appropriations bill comes closer to what Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended last month.

Midyear spending reductions included $14.56 million for Board of Regents institutions; $1.8 million for community colleges; $6.24 million for the Department of Human Services; $3.4 million for corrections and prisons; $1.6 million for Iowa’s court system and $1.7 million for the Department of Education.

No changes were made to funding levels for K-12 schools, Medicaid, the Iowa State Patrol and the property tax “backfill” the state provides to local governments.

The Senate bill also transfers $10 million from the Skilled Worker and Job Creation Fund into the state general fund, and would make supplemental appropriations to the State Public Defender’s Office for indigent defense ($1.7 million) and to Department of Administrative Services for utilities costs ($451,871).

The new net fiscal 2018 appropriation level would be $7.24 billion, down from $7.27 billion.

Minority Democrats decried the cuts as “deep and very reckless,” but Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who was the bill’s floor manager, said the adjustments were caused by lower-than-expected revenue growth and past spending practices that erased a hefty surplus.

“We’re fulfilling our duty to Iowa taxpayers and we’re being responsible in how we go about it,” said Schneider.

Last month, Senate Republicans proposed $52 million in cuts, which was deeper than Reynolds and majority House Republicans sought — leading Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, to complain that Iowans were experiencing “GOP whiplash” from the bouncing numbers.

“Your irresponsible budget practices have cut through the bone of essential state services,” he said. “Iowans will know in a couple of weeks the details of your plan as the Department of Management and these departments put details to which Iowans are going to be hurt by these cuts.”

Schneider said some of the spending levels in SF 2117 are agreed to with House Republicans, but “some of them still have to be worked out.”

The affected departments have less than five months to make the cuts.

Senate Republicans agreed with the governor in putting $11.2 million in anticipated revenue from the federal tax cuts toward the state budget’s ending balance.

The Senate also voted 50-0 to reduce daily expense money for legislators to cover 85 session days, rather than 100.

But Republicans rejected an amendment from Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, to boost funding to community colleges by $1.75 million as a way of keeping taxpayers from paying the cost of a sexual harassment settlement made to a former Senate GOP staffer last year.

Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, worried the cuts would reduce critical Human Services case workers and field staff. Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said court services in rural counties would be shut down, and Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Des Moines, predicted prisons would cut staff. Several speakers warned of higher tuitions coming for state university and community college students.

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