# State Budget



GOP senator admits vouchers could pay for wealthy Iowans' college

Governor Kim Reynolds has depicted her “Student First Scholarship” plan, which would divert some public funds to private schools, as a way to help lower-income Iowans. She told reporters in March that giving parents “the choice in their child’s education” should not “only be available to individuals who have the resources to do it. That is fundamentally wrong.”

But Republican State Senator Brad Zaun acknowledged in his latest newsletter that state funds could pay “almost the full cost” of college for well-off families that stockpile “scholarship” money while paying for their kids’ K-12 private school education.

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Iowa's flat tax may mean fewer public services

Randy Richardson: Everyone likes paying lower taxes until they realize they may not receive the same benefits from the government.

Americans hate taxes. Other countries have taxes, including some with much higher tax rates, but for some reason their citizens don’t have the same objections as their American counterparts.

There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the most common is that many Americans are simply unaware of what government does for them. A 2008 Cornell Survey Research Institute poll showed that 57 percent of respondents said they had never participated in a government social program. However, 94 percent of these same respondents reported being the beneficiary of at least one federal government program, with the average participant benefiting from four of them.

Which brings me to the recently enacted flat income tax bill in Iowa.

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Federal auditors reviewing CARES Act funds for governor's staff salaries

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing documentation provided to justify Governor Kim Reynolds’ use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to compensate staff in her office, Deputy Inspector General Richard Delmar told Bleeding Heartland on March 14.

The State Auditor’s office concluded in November and reaffirmed this month that Reynolds used $448,449 in CARES Act funds to pay part of the salaries and benefits of 21 permanent staffers between March and June 2020 in order to “cover a budget shortfall that was not a result of the pandemic.” State Auditor Rob Sand called on Reynolds to return the money to Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund before the end of 2021. The governor’s office has insisted its use of COVID-19 relief funds for staff salaries was justified.

When the State Auditor’s office published its findings in November, Delmar told Bleeding Heartland his office “has not initiated an audit of the Governor’s Office salaries and awaits resolution of this matter between the Iowa State Auditor and the Governor’s Office.”

Asked this week about the impasse between Reynolds and state auditors, Delmar confirmed via email, “We have requested documentation of the uses from the State Auditor’s Office and are in the process of reviewing it.”

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Iowa Republicans repeat mistakes of Kansas, Louisiana

Republican lawmakers completed work on their top priority last week. Disregarding their longtime mantra of not using “one-time money” to fund ongoing expenses, Republicans cited the state’s record budget surplus—which primarily stems from temporary federal assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic—as an excuse to make deep, permanent tax cuts.

Democratic lawmakers decried the cuts as unfair, noting that the Republican plan would make Iowa’s tax system more regressive and would not address key workforce problems, such as the high cost of child care. It would also give some 3,000 Iowans earning more than $1 million per year an average tax cut of $67,000 each year—more than 100 times as much as what the average Iowa household (with annual income around $68,000) would receive in tax cuts.

While those points are important, this post will focus on another problem with the GOP approach. If the experiences of Kansas and Louisiana are any guide, Iowa’s state government will soon face a fiscal mess.

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Iowa Republicans continue to underfund public schools

Iowa House and Senate Republicans have yet again approved school funding at a level that will fail to meet the needs of K-12 school districts.

House File 2316 increases Supplemental State Aid by 2.5 percent (or $181 per pupil) for the coming academic year, the level Governor Kim Reynolds requested. Total state funding for public school districts and Area Education Agencies will increase by $172 million to about $3.58 billion, according to analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

GOP lawmakers bristle at accusations that they have underfunded K-12 schools, when state aid has increased nearly every year. Republicans “have never once” cut funding to education, Iowa Senate Education Committee chair Amy Sinclair said during the February 14 floor debate.

But a 2.5 percent increase is tantamount to a funding cut in real terms, because it will not keep pace with rising costs for school districts.

Moreover, a review of school funding over nearly 50 years shows that this Republican trifecta has been far less willing to support public schools than past Iowa legislatures.

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Governor's vision for Iowa is out of focus

Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans President Mike McCarthy (retired AFSCME), Vice President Kay Pence (retired CWA), Secretary Jan Corderman (retired AFSCME), and Treasurer Ken Sagar (retired IBEW and Iowa AFL-CIO President Emeritus) co-authored this commentary.

The Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans is alarmed by Governor Kim Reynolds’ vision for Iowa. Iowa seniors value a strong economy where our families can live and thrive. From tax cuts to undermining our schools and our future ability to fund public needs, her vision is out of focus.

A strong economy needs a strong infrastructure, but under six years of Republican leadership, Iowa has earned the dubious distinction as either worst or second-worst in the nation for deficient bridges, depending on if you are talking about number or percentage

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