Branstad predicts preschool program will survive

Governor Terry Branstad seems to have thrown in the towel on his plan to replace Iowa’s universal voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds, judging from comments he made at town hall meetings today:

The budget impasse has dragged on so long Republican Gov. Terry Branstad doubts it will be possible to implement his plan for restructuring voluntary preschool for Iowa 4-year-olds in the 2011-12 school year.

“At this point in time, I think that’s unlikely to happen,” Branstad said May 24 about his plans to implement a need-based scholarship system that would require all parents to pay at least part of the cost of sending their children to preschool. Parents with higher incomes would pick up a larger share of the cost under his plan.

That was greeted with applause at a Branstad town hall meeting in Elkader and at another in Oelwein Tuesday afternoon.

However, Branstad and House Republicans have not agreed to fund the preschool program, projected to cost about $70 million in the 2012 fiscal year. Lonna Powers, director of a preschool in Oelwein, told Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds that “it’s questionable whether I can hire certified staff and whether families can afford to send their children” during the coming school year without state funding.

The Republican-controlled Iowa House voted in January to repeal the voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds, but the Democratic-controlled Senate stripped that section out of a major “deappropriations” bill. The House again voted to scale back preschool spending in March, but the Senate did not act on that legislation (House File 535).

Education spending has emerged as the biggest obstacle to a broad budget agreement between House leaders and the governor on the one hand and Senate leaders on the other. Democrats contend that with Iowa projected to have approximately $1 billion in various surplus accounts as of June 30, the state can easily afford the $65 million it would cost to fund 2 percent allowable growth for K-12 school budgets in fiscal year 2012. Democrats also say the governor’s proposed cuts in state funding to public universities, private and community colleges are “severe and unnecessary.” Republicans insist on a general fund budget below $6 billion in fiscal year 2012, which would require some cuts in education spending. After the jump I’ve posted the Senate Democrats’ list of 10 budget areas on which they demand some compromise from Branstad. The top five are all connected to education.

This week the budget negotiations have become more productive, according to Branstad and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen. Notably, I haven’t seen such optimistic comments from leading Senate Democrats. Branstad expects a budget agreement by the first week of June, but if that doesn’t materialize he will stay in Des Moines, sending Reynolds on an Asian trade mission he is scheduled to lead next month.  

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Register poll on Obama, gay marriage and more

The Des Moines Register continues to release results from its latest statewide poll. Selzer and Co surveyed 800 Iowa adults between February 13 and 16. Bleeding Heartland discussed the Register’s poll numbers on Governor Terry Branstad here.

Follow me after the jump to discuss President Barack Obama’s approval inching up in Iowa, slight growth in support for same-sex marriage rights, views on ways to close the state budget gap, and more.

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Iowa House sends heavily amended spending cut bill to governor

House File 45 heads to Governor Terry Branstad’s desk today after the Iowa House approved the “deappropriations” bill by a 95 to zero vote. The bill was the top legislative priority for House Republican leaders, but the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate eliminated many of its controversial provisions last week. The full text of House File 45 is here, and the complete bill history is here. The Senate Journal for February 17 contains roll calls for votes on House File 45 and various amendments (pdf file). The final Senate version of House File 45 passed with 48 yes votes. First-term Republican Senator Mark Chelgren voted against the bill, and Republican Senator Sandy Greiner was absent.

Thanks to the Senate amendment, state funding for preschool, family planning, passenger rail, smoking cessation programs, and the core curriculum live to fight another day in the Iowa legislature. So do the Power Fund, the Office of Energy Independence, and the Grow Iowa Values Fund, all economic development programs long targeted by statehouse Republicans.

In addition, the Senate removed language from House File 45 that would have reduced funding for state universities, area education agencies, land acquisitions by the Department of Natural Resources and the Resource Enhancement and Protection fund.

The Senate’s version of House File 45 also did not include language creating a “tax relief fund” that would have collected surplus revenues after state reserve funds were filled.

After the jump I’ve posted an overview compiled by the Iowa House Democratic research staff on “major items eliminated” by the Senate amendment to House File 45. I’ve also listed some other significant points of divergence between the Senate and House versions of this bill, as well as key points on which the Senate left House File 45’s language intact.

Finally, I’ve posted the House Democratic research staff’s explanation of language that would create searchable databases on the state budget and tax rates.  

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Democrats fighting to save preschool funding

The preschool program will be at the center of Democratic opposition to a “deappropriations” bill the Iowa House Appropriations Committee approved this week. Republicans say House Study Bill 1, which has been renamed House File 45, would save $500 million over three years. Nearly a third of that total would come from eliminating the statewide voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds (estimated to cost $69.9 million in fiscal year 2012 and $75.1 million in fiscal year 2013). Click here for a summary listing the budget cuts and supplemental appropriations in House File 45.

On January 13, House Democrats launched a website to help mobilize Iowans who value the long-term benefits of preschool. Ending the program could affect 20,000 children across the state. This chart (pdf file) shows the preschool enrollment for four-year-olds and cost to the state for each school district. For instance, in the Des Moines area there are 1,335 children enrolled in the preschool program through the Des Moines Community Schools, 235 in the West Des Moines school district, 208 in Johnston, 207 in Southeast Polk, 163 in Norwalk, 147 in Urbandale, and 122 in Ankeny. In the Cedar Rapids area, 473 children are enrolled in preschool through the Cedar Rapids school district and 175 in Linn-Mar.

A public hearing on House File 45 will take place Tuesday, January 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the House chambers at the capitol. Only 40 people will be allowed to speak, but any Iowan can send written comments on the bill to lioinfo AT legis.state.ia.us, with “testimony” in the e-mail subject line. House Democrats are also asking members of the public to post comments at the Save Preschool site.

Statehouse Republicans and incoming Governor Terry Branstad want to replace the preschool program with a voucher system geared to low-income families. However, many middle-income families in Iowa are also unable to afford preschool, which can easily cost $700 to $800 per month. If state assistance for middle-class families disappears, many preschools could close for lack of students.

It’s unfortunate that preschool became a partisan issue in Iowa. A Pew Center on the States report published last month found, “Despite persistent budget shortfalls, the majority of state legislatures have once again made the prudent decision to protect pre-k programs.” In addition, more than a dozen states “with control of the executive and legislative branches split between the two major parties” nevertheless “protected their pre-k investments from budget cuts.”

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Branstad still pushing false claims, wrong priorities

One day after Terry Branstad won the Republican nomination for governor, his accountability problem was back on display. Speaking to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s annual convention in Ames yesterday, Branstad told the audience, “I want to get rid of the present incumbent because he’s driven the state into the biggest budget deficit in history.”

In the psychological field, projection is “a defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people.” I’m not qualified to offer any professional diagnosis, but Branstad’s the guy who really did keep two sets of books to hide illegal deficits. It’s incredible to hear him keep making that false claim about Governor Chet Culver’s administration. The governor and Iowa’s legislative leaders haven’t run up any budget deficit, let alone the largest deficit ever. If Culver were running deficits, Iowa wouldn’t have a top-level credit rating or be considered one of the states “least like California” in terms of fiscal problems.

How long will Branstad keep getting away with making stuff up about Culver’s record? Your guess is as good as mine.

In other news, Branstad promised the Association of Business and Industry crowd that if elected, he wouldn’t allow key priorities of organized labor like the prevailing wage or collective bargaining bills to become law. I doubt ABI has to worry about that, since Iowa Democrats haven’t delivered on those issues during the past four years.

Culver visited a Cedar Rapids preschool yesterday and blasted Branstad’s “20th Century thinking” on preschool funding:

“This is an investment we cannot afford to not make in the future,” Culver said about the preschool initiative. He said he budgeted $90 million this year for the program and $115 million next year. […]

“While we want to continue to fund preschool … Terry Branstad wants to take that away,” Culver said. […]

The fiscal 2011 funding will assist an additional 150 school districts and school district collaborations under the statewide voluntary preschool program, he said. It is projected that during the 2010-2011 school year about 21,354 four-year-olds will be served by the preschool program in 326 school districts across the state.

Many Iowa families could not afford early education for their children without the state program. Culver is right to pound Branstad for his screwed-up priorities. Culver also criticized the Republican for wanting to go backwards on state-funded stem cell research, women’s reproductive rights and flood recovery funding for the Cedar Rapids area. Like everyone else in the Iowa GOP, Branstad has criticized the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative but not explained how he would have paid for the flood reconstruction and prevention projects Iowa needs.

Branstad told Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette that he would not try to repeal the I-JOBS bonding, but “also compared I-JOBS to the Greek debt crisis.” Give me a break. The professional investor community drove down the interest rate of the initial I-JOBS offering because of Iowa’s solid fiscal condition and plan for repaying the bonds. In fact, I-JOBS was one of the top 10 “deals of the year” in 2009 according to Bond Buyer, the daily newspaper of public finance.

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Massive Iowa Legislature linkfest (post-funnel edition)

The Iowa Legislature has been moving at an unusually fast pace during the shortened 2010 session. It’s time to catch up on what’s happened at the statehouse over the past three weeks. From here on out I will try to post a legislative roundup at the end of every week.

February 12 was the first “funnel” deadline. In order to have a chance of moving forward in 2010, all legislation except for tax and appropriations bills must have cleared at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by the end of last Friday.

After the jump I’ve included links on lots of bills that have passed or are still under consideration, as well as bills I took an interest in that failed to clear the funnel. I have grouped bills by subject area. This post is not an exhaustive list; way too many bills are under consideration for me to discuss them all. I recommend this funnel day roundup by Rod Boshart for the Mason City Globe-Gazette.

Note: the Iowa legislature’s second funnel deadline is coming up on March 5. To remain alive after that point, all bills except tax and appropriations bills must have been approved by either the full House or Senate and by a committee in the opposite chamber. Many bills that cleared the first funnel week will die in the second.  

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