Iowans are used to answering the call when things get tough.
Stories of neighbors coming together to rebuild a community after a natural disaster or harvest a farmer’s last crop haven’t been uncommon over the years. When we’re called to action, we answer.
Right now, Iowans are answering the call in a way in which we aren’t accustomed. Hardworking Iowans are doing what they’ve been told to fight COVID-19. We have been fighting an invisible enemy by staying home because this is what it takes to help our neighbors.
Because we have been staying home, some Iowans aren’t receiving paychecks. Small businesses across the state that weren’t essential shut their doors. While most have begun reopening, others could not hold out and now will remain closed for good.
The resilience of Iowans is showing through. We are turning a corner in this fight and we will get through this. What lies ahead, though, is largely uncertain.
The Legislature plans to reconvene on June 3. What started as a typical session will ultimately conclude in a way that is far from normal, and tough decisions will have to be made. When the pandemic reared its ugly head in March, Iowa was in a strong financial position that most states envied. A large part of this sound state budget was due to the hard work and fiscal restraint of Legislative Republicans and Gov. Reynolds and their commitment to not spending more than the state takes in. But because so many businesses closed or otherwise saw their activity greatly reduced, many individuals have lost their incomes and state revenue will not come in as originally projected next year.
The federal government has not been shy about creating new funding streams to protect paychecks and supplement emergency responses at the state and local level. And there is likely more in the works in Washington. But all of those dollars and the strings attached to them may not cover the entirety of Iowa’s budget challenges.
When legislators return to Des Moines next month, difficult decisions will need to be made to reduce state government accordingly so that taxpayers don’t have to shoulder more of the burden in a way that, frankly, they can’t afford. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with businesses, large and small, across Iowa that have had to make similar choices. Our elected officials should not look to taxpayers to fill potential gaps in the budget, as many are already hurting financially from answering the call to stay home to fight the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.
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In the best of times, noisy special interests too often shout for their piece of the pie or a special carve-out. The current abnormal times can further exacerbate these requests. Special interests will seek gains as the legislative session rushes to conclude and pass a budget before the end of the fiscal year.
Iowans have responded to their government’s call to protect their neighbors. Lawmakers must return that protection in making spending decisions and planning a budget in the challenging financial times that lie ahead.
Chris Ingstad is president of Iowans for Tax Relief.