DES MOINES — Senators Tuesday approved a scaled-back $908.4 million budget bill for higher education, the Iowa Department of Education and other state education functions and sent it to Gov. Terry Branstad for his consideration.
House File 642, passed 29-21, includes 6 percent reductions for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University and about a 3 percent cut for the University of Northern Iowa in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
“There are so many things not to like about this bill,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames. “You vote for this bill, you’re voting for a tuition increase at the state universities.”
Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, a co-chair of the House-Senate education budget subcommittee, said this year’s unusually tight budget situation is the result of overspending the occurred before Republicans took control of the Senate this year.
“We all saw this coming, this is not a surprise to anybody,” he said.
Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee also approved $5.5 billion in spending Tuesday for schools and human services over Democrats’ concerns the state’s most vulnerable populations may be getting shortchanged.
Provisions of the $3.73 billion standing appropriations bill funded the 1.1 percent boost in state aid to schools already enacted, and provided $20 million toward paying back $131 million borrowed from the cash reserve to cover a projected budget shortfall this fiscal year.
Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, predicted the ending balance achieved by June 30, 2018, would be able to fully repay the reserve.
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GOP senators also approved a $1.77 billion health and human services budget that was 1.5 percent, or $27.9 million, less than the current year revised spending and about $70 million below the fiscal 2017 level approved before midyear budget cuts.
Despite the cuts, Republicans set aside $3 million to fund women’s health care clinics that do not offer abortions. The money would pay for contraceptives, exams and other reproductive health services for Medicaid patients. They are rejecting federal dollars in order to avoid funding services at Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa.
Schneider called the plan for fiscal 2018 “responsible and realistic.”
However, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, ranking committee member, slammed Republicans for creating a budget “crisis and emergency” that is “riddled with tax giveaways” while failing to meet basic services. He said it was ironic that Republicans were using one-time money to cover ongoing expenses in violation of their own principles.
Minority Democrats called this year’s budget process a joke, given that the two bills taken up Tuesday surfaced quickly with little or no public input.
“It’s really hard to hear the cuts,” said Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, after a summary explanation of the health and human services budget bill was outlined. “I do think it’s going to have a devastating impact on many of the vulnerable people across the state of Iowa.”
The standings bill included a number of unrelated budget issues — cutting $440,000 in legislative branch expenditures next year, limiting non-public school transportation to $8.2 million for the next two fiscal years and appropriating $150,000 for transition costs for Gov. Terry Branstad to eventually leave to become U.S. ambassador to China and have Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds succeed him.
Other policy changes require law enforcement agencies to indefinitely retain sexual assault evidence kits; repeal a requirement that state buildings include no less than one-half of 1 percent of construction costs dedicated to fine arts elements; require businesses selling alternative nicotine and tobacco “vaping” products to collect state sales tax and not sell to anyone under age 18; require county auditors to arrange candidate names on the ballot in descending order based on previous election results; and close a loophole in Iowa’s gun-permit application opened by a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling.
In the House, representatives adopted an amendment by Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, to identify state facilities that could be sold to find revenue for more than $300 million in maintenance needs at facilities that are in use.
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Her amendment became part of House File 643, an infrastructure bill that was approved 57-40 on a party-line vote.
Mascher noted the Toledo Juvenile Home for girls, the old Fort Madison prison and mental health institutes at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant are among facilities the state isn’t using but is paying to maintain.
HF 643 appropriates $98.4 million for fiscal 2018. It includes $73.9 million for the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, $10 million for the Technology Reinvestment Fund, $12 million for the State Bond Repayments Fund and $760,000 for the Revenue Bond Capitals Fund.
The bill includes $5.2 million for water quality and $3 million for the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure grants.
Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, offered but withdrew an amendment to appropriate $1 million for restoring Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids.
And also in the House, Senate File 509, the Justice System budget that appropriates $559 million from the general fund to the departments of Justice, Corrections, Inspections and Appeals, Public Defense, Human Rights, Public Safety, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, the Board of Parole and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, was approved 57-40 on a party-line vote. It represents a decrease of $2.9 million compared with the current budget. It also appropriates $15.8 million from other funds, an increase of $2.4 million.
James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.