Government

Gov. Reynolds' pitches start budget debate

Her proposal for K-12 increase already under scrutiny

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is proposing a $7.6 billion state budget that puts new money into schools, mental health care and her signature workforce development program.

Reynolds released her proposal Tuesday for the state’s fiscal 2020 budget beginning July 1, the one legislators will be finalizing this session.

The proposal outlines her spending priorities, though House and Senate lawmakers will propose their own plans later.

Reynolds’ budget calls for $100 million more than the $7.5 billion spent in this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

She proposes a 2.3 percent increase in funding for K-12 public schools, a $93 million boost. If approved, it would be the largest school funding increase since fiscal 2015.

Reynolds also proposed $11 million to help rural school districts cope with higher student transportation costs and $3 million to train educators to help students with mental health issues.

“That’s an investment we can be proud of,” Reynolds said.

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said a 2.3 percent increase in school funding still will leave many districts struggling. He proposed 3 or 4 percent instead.

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“We’ve underfunded education dramatically in years past,” he said. “Let’s take this opportunity. Let’s fund our priorities. Let’s fund education.”

Republican legislators, on the other hand, may not be willing to go as high as Reynolds did.

Pat Grassley, chairman of the House budget committee, called the proposal “reasonable” and Senate President Charles Schneider said only that Senate Republicans will discuss funding levels in committee.

The state’s public universities are getting a funding boost: $7 million more each for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, and $4 million more for the University of Northern Iowa. That matches the request by the universities, which have said recent years of low state funding forced them to raise tuition.

Reynolds proposed $20 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $12 million the following year for Future Ready Iowa, the workforce program that aims to ensure 70 percent of Iowa workers have post-high school education or job training.

The new funding, if approved, would support scholarships and grants.

“This investment will take Iowa to the next level. And more important, it will give more Iowans an opportunity to find a rewarding career,” Reynolds told lawmakers.

As part of her focus on rural initiatives, Reynolds proposed $10 million each over the next two budget years to support the expansion of broadband internet access. She said that will help leverage $120 million more in private investment.

“A lot of conversation is about development in rural Iowa. That’s an issue that for too long both parties probably have not invested the time and effort that we should have,” Grassley said. “I took away that being one of her biggest priorities this year.”

Reynolds proposed $11 million over the next two budget years to help the state’s regional mental health care delivery systems offer expanded services. She also proposed giving the state’s 14 mental health care regions more time to spend down capital balances they have tallied and increase the level of spending that can be carried from one year to the next,

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In addition, she budgeted for four more psychiatric residency positions at the UI for doctors who would practice in rural communities.

“There may still be more to do, so I’m asking everyone in this chamber to work with me to ensure that we have sustainable funding that will keep our mental health system strong,” Reynolds said.

Absent was a pitch for any new funding for water quality projects. She highlighted legislation passed in 2018 for improvement projects that included an estimated $270 million over 11 years, starting with $4 million in the current budget year and $8 million in the budget year starting July 1. That jumps to $27 million the following year.

“I would say the expectation of everyone is to make sure that we’re maintaining those commitments that we have made,” Grassley said. “That was a pretty big step for the Legislature to take last year and put a lot of effort into that. So seeing what those impacts are, what’s working and what maybe isn’t working like we expected.”

Reynolds’ budget proposal still would leave an ending balance of $185.5 million, according to estimates from the governor’s staff.

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