Staff Columnist

So many to thank for Iowa's state budget surplus

Old Iowa Postcard of state sites. Front Image.
Old Iowa Postcard of state sites. Front Image.

So word comes this week that Iowa ran up a $298 million budget surplus in Fiscal Year 2019, which was much larger than budget experts predicted.

This led to considerable crowing by Republicans who run the Legislature. It was a “validation” of GOP fiscal policies and stewardship.

“Today’s surplus announcement is more evidence that Iowa’s economy is stronger than ever thanks to the hard work of GOP leaders,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann in a media release.

It’s true, the party in charge at the Golden Dome of Wisdom gets credit for a surplus, just as they take hits for a deficit. Give them an award. Call it the Golden Domey

But like any recipient of a prestigious award, Republicans should know there are others to thank as they clutch a coveted Domey.

First, we must thank Congress for passing tax cuts in 2017. Because Iowa allows us to deduct federal taxes from what we owe the state, a decrease in taxes sent to Washington, D.C., means more taxes flow into Des Moines. Federal changes contributed to the growth in Iowa income tax revenues that fueled the surplus, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

So Congress increased the deficit so Iowa could have a surplus.

We can’t forget the Iowa taxpayer. Sure, the primary credit goes to legislators, who come in Monday afternoon, take Fridays off, receive daily payments for expenses and chow down on free food and drinks at dozens of special interest receptions. But you worked hard, too.

Thanks to the nearly 3,000 state workers who have been laid off, retired early or departed voluntarily since 2011, according to a Des Moines Register analysis. We couldn’t have done it without you. And many thanks to those who remain, and who are trying to do the work of government without you.

Thanks to all of the state workers who didn’t sue for sexual harassment, wrongful termination or discrimination. That’s a big help.

Thanks to the parents and students who are paying higher tuition at state universities.

Thanks to the public school teachers who buy their own supplies, and lost the right to bargain for benefits.

Thanks to the impaired waterways, and to the gulf dead zone. Your willingness to remain polluted has been a real budgetary boon.

Sorry to anyone we forgot.

Also, sorry to anyone thinking a surplus means we can invest more in our priorities. The current Fiscal Year 2020 is the first to absorb the full effect of GOP state tax cuts approved in 2018. The cuts are expected to reduce revenues by more than $400 million this year, $471 million in FY 2021 and $495 million in 2022. Expanded sales taxes will offset a portion of those cuts.

Last session, lawmakers had to approve a midyear budget boost of $150 million to keep privatized Medicaid afloat. Who knows how much our unpredictable private Medicaid overlords will need in 2020?

And, historically, Republican majorities sitting on an election year surplus tend to cut taxes.

Still, amid the surplus celebration, Gov. Kim Reynolds struck a cautious note regarding “economic headwinds” hitting agriculture. Wise, to be sure. But she neglected to mention the White House blowhard spawning those gusts. That, unlike revenue, was predictable.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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