Republicans blow a billion-dollar hole in the budget (updated)

Matt Chapman reports from today’s Iowa Senate committee hearings on a massive tax bill published the previous day. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Senate Republicans dropped Senate Study Bill 3197 on February 21, scheduling a subcommittee on the tax plan first thing the following morning and a full Ways and Means Committee to consider the bill shortly after lunch. They had employed a similar shock-and-awe tactic last week to get Senate Study Bill 3193 through the legislature’s “funnel” on the last possible day. That bill, modeled after a Florida law deemed unconstitutional, called for drug testing Medicaid and food assistance (SNAP) recipients, along with quarterly instead of yearly recertification and work requirements.

In opening comments on his tax proposal, Senate Ways and Means Chair Randy Feenstra said SSB 3197 was “bold” and would save Iowans an average of $1,000 in taxes. You can watch the whole meeting on video here.

Senator Pam Jochum, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said she was looking forward to input from EMS and firefighters, among others, since this bill would end deductions. She was also concerned that there was no fiscal impact statement and wanted to be sure it fit the budget. Jochum asked Feenstra if he had any data he could share.

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Weekend thread: Big Iowa problems

A majority of Iowans think mental health services, student loan debt, child welfare services, state university tuition, and the state budget are either a “crisis” or a “big problem” for Iowa, according to the latest Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. Among nine issues tested in the survey of 801 Iowa adults in late January, mental health services registered as the top concern: 35 percent of respondents described the situation as a crisis, 38 percent as a big problem. No other topic registered above 20 percent for “crisis.”

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GOP Ag candidate upsets partisan balance on environmental commission

The state commission that oversees environmental policies will no longer conform to Iowa standards on bipartisanship once its leader files papers as a Republican candidate for secretary of agriculture in the coming weeks.

Fayette County farmer Chad Ingels announced on January 25 that he will seek the GOP nomination for secretary of agriculture, KGLO Radio’s Jesse Stewart reported. A former Iowa State Extension watershed specialist who now measures fertilizer applications for a private non-profit, Ingels has served on the Environmental Protection Commission since 2013. He has chaired that body since last June, shortly after his reappointment to a four-year term expiring in 2021. Of the nine commissioners, Ingels is the only registered no-party voter.

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Five cases against Iowa's phony "water quality" bill

Iowa House Republicans capitulated on January 23, sending the Senate’s version of a bill to fund water programs to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk. During the floor debate on Senate File 512, several Democrats and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore argued for the water quality language House members had approved last year with strong bipartisan support. Whereas agricultural lobby groups were the primary supporters of Senate File 512, a large number of stakeholders were involved in crafting the House amendment. Insisting on the House version would have sent the legislation to a conference committee for further negotiations. All 41 House Democrats and five Republicans (Baltimore, Mary Ann Hanusa, Jake Highfill, Guy Vander Linden, and Ralph Watts) opposed “receding” from the House version, but the other 54 Republicans approved the motion to abandon that language (roll call).

The subsequent 59 to 41 vote to approve final passage of the Senate bill mostly followed party lines, but four Democrats who represent smaller towns and rural areas voted yes: Bruce Bearinger, Helen Miller, Scott Ourth, and Todd Prichard. Miller has taken a particular interest in farm-related issues over the years; she is the Agriculture Committee Chair for the National Black Caucus of State Legislators as well as a member of State Agricultural and Rural Leaders.

Four Republicans joined the rest of the House Democrats to oppose Senate File 512: Baltimore, Hanusa, Highfill, and Vander Linden. As floor manager of this legislation in 2017, Baltimore led a group of GOP House members who opposed the Senate’s approach. More recently, he was sidelined as the Iowa Farm Bureau and allies pressured the “Baltimore 16” to accept the Senate bill without amendments. Appearing on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” broadcast on January 22, Baltimore sounded discouraged, saying there was a “snowball’s chance in hell” of a water quality compromise. His final words on that program called for “reasonable minds” to get something “comprehensive and collaborative done, rather than shoving one bill down another chamber’s throat and promising to work on it later.”

New floor manager John Wills promised passage of Senate File 512 would be “just the beginning, not the end” of legislative discussions on water quality. No one I know in the environmental community believes Republicans will approve any further funding increases for water programs, much less a bill that would measure progress so the public could find out what methods work best to reduce water pollution.

I enclose below some of the best takes I’ve seen on the worse-than-doing-nothing bill Reynolds will soon sign.

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