Guest Columnist

Bolkcom: Reynold's tax plan will ruin Iowa's mental health system

Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom during the public comment session of the Iowa Board of Regents' tuition task force in Iowa City, I
Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom during the public comment session of the Iowa Board of Regents’ tuition task force in Iowa City, Iowa, on Monday, August 14, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Gov. Reynold’s Invest in Iowa plan will throw our mental health system into chaos. Her plan calls for raising the sales tax and drastically cutting income taxes.

As she recently said on Iowa PBS’s Iowa Press: The plan is “an overall tax reduction and I want to make sure that that’s clear. I had no interest in raising taxes,” she said. “So I said from the get go, if we’re going to take a look at finally funding the (conservation) trust, then it has to be an overall net tax reduction and the bill does that.”

She is correct. Her plan will drain more than one hundred million dollars from state coffers just as she makes an unsustainable promise of more state funding for conservation mental health programs.

Gov. Reynolds’ Invest in Iowa plan is nothing more than a tax shift that gives an unneeded tax cut to wealthy Iowans paid for by low-income families and seniors.

Her plan shifts the cost of proposed new state spending on conservation and mental health programs on to low-income families and seniors living on fixed incomes. The people least able to pay. It’s the biggest tax shift in state history.

Here is what the governor is not telling Iowans.

Her proposal threatens the stability of our fragile mental health system. She proposes to cut stable, predictable local funding for mental health by $80 million and replace it with unpredictable and declining state appropriations.

The strength of our adult system over the decades is that it was created and is financially supported by local elected officials, families and mental health providers. It is the backbone of our mental health system.

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The reason it exists today is that it has NOT had to rely on annually begging the Legislature for funding over the past 50 years. It is successful because local elected officials are accountable for making it work.

More state control of the system will result in less stable funding, less local accountability for results and more broken promises.

Why is this happening? The Iowa Farm Bureau has long advocated for this change. They don’t believe mental health services should be funded by a small amount of dedicated property taxes. For the record, agricultural property accounts for 18 percent of the total statewide contribution for our local mental health services.

Over the past three years, Gov. Reynolds and the state legislature have added more than a dozen new mental health service mandates for adults and children on our local mental health providers. This was done with great fanfare but virtually no new state funding to see them implemented.

More state control on our mental health system in not needed — more state funding is. Gov. Reynolds should build on the long established, stable local funding with new state resources. That is what will strengthen our mental health system, not a long track record of broken promises

Joe Bolkcom is a Democratic state senator representing Iowa City.

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