February 2, 2018
GOP Lawmakers Plan Budget Cuts to Job Training
GOP Lawmakers Plan Budget Cuts to Job Training
Republican lawmakers in the Senate have released their plan to cut $52 million from the state budget this year, with about half of the cuts in job training and higher education. It’s the fourth time this year the state budget has been facing a deficit.
Called the deappropriations bill, Senate File 2117 would have a significant impact on families with kids in college, protections and services for Iowans in need, and close 30 county courthouses. At a time when Iowans need additional job training beyond high school, the proposed bill cuts $7 million from the Skilled Worker Training Fund. Iowa’s three state universities would be cut by $20 million this year and community colleges would lose $5.4 million which means tuition would go up for those students and families. While Senate Republicans didn’t propose a specific $10 million cut to Medicaid as proposed by the Governor, they are recommending that the Department of Human Services find $10 million in unspecified cuts.
In response to the $4.8 million proposed cut to the Judicial Branch, the courts issued a letter stating they would be forced to close 30 courthouses indefinitely if the bill is approved. The courts, just like all other state agencies were hit with a deappropriation in the previous fiscal year and have not yet recovered from that cut.
Senate File 2117 is awaiting debate by the full Senate.
House Proposes Even Lower School Aid than Last Year
Republican lawmakers are fast tracking a plan for yet another historically low increase in basic funding for public schools next year. The level of funding proposed at 1% next year, is the lowest amount in seven years and lower than last year. In fact, eight of the last nine years have been the lowest funding levels in the history of the school aid formula.
In recent years, low public school funding has led to higher class sizes, school closings, fewer technology upgrades, and pink slips for teachers.
Many Iowans are also concerned about the anemic investments in public schools while Republican lawmakers are also considering a new voucher plan to take $200 million from public schools and shift it to private schools and homeschools instead.
The bill, House Study Bill 586, may be voted by the House as early as next week.
State Income Tax Deadlines Approaching
State income taxes are due soon with the filing deadline on May 1st this year. The Department of Revenue uses the postmark date to determine if a paper return is filed on time and the transmittal date when e-filing. Federal income taxes must still be filed by April 17th this year since the regular deadline, April 15th, falls on a weekend.
The Department of Revenue provides a variety of options for tax filers to pay their taxes, including many free filing options for low and moderate income tax filers available on their website at https://tax.iowa.gov/tax-year-2017-file-free. In addition, AARP Foundation provides free tax preparation for low and moderate-income taxpayers, especially those 50 and over – through their Tax-Aide program. The Tax-Aide program includes over 5,000 locations nationwide. Additional information can be found at https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/.
Individual taxpayers can track the status of their state tax refund online through the Department of Revenue. Taxpayers will need their social security number, the tax year, and the amount of the refund. The status of the refund can then be checked at https://www.idr.iowa.gov/wheresmyrefund/.
Iowans that qualify are encouraged to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC provides tax relief for working families up to certain income levels. The credit is especially targeted to taxpayers with children. If you qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit you can likely claim the state credit as well. For additional information about the Earned Income Tax Credit see https://dhs.iowa.gov/EITC.
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Extended Six Years
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), known as the hawk-i Program in Iowa, has been funded through 2023 in a federal continuing resolution that was voted on last week. The continuing resolution provides federal funding to states by keeping the enhanced match rate that was part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For FY 18, the state will pay approximately 6.36% while the federal government will pay 93.64%. CHIP was allowed to expire on September 30, 2017, leaving the states to cover the program in its entirety. Iowa officials indicated that they would have had enough money to fund the program until March 2018.
Hawk-i is designed for uninsured children of working families. Iowa has one of the best insured rates for children in the country with only 3% uninsured children. Currently, there are approximately 45,348 children enrolled in hawk-i, an additional 23,000 are covered by Medicaid expansion, and 3,498 participate in the dental-only plan.
For more information about the hawk-i program, please visit: https://dhs.iowa.gov/hawk-i.
Expansion of Lights on Snowplows Passes Committee
Driving on Iowa roads during winter storm conditions can be a dangerous adventure. The Iowa Legislature is taking steps to hopefully make it a little less dangerous by allowing snow plows across the state operate with blue and white lights. Current law allows for snow plows to use amber colored lights.
The proposal stems from previously legislation that authorized a pilot project for snowplows in 12 Iowa counties to operate blue and white lights on top of the trucks. The results of the project were incredibly positive. Prior to snow plows being able to use blue and white lights there was an accident approximately every 2,801 hours of operation. The number jumped to 8,813 hours of operation with snow plows using blue and white lights in 2016/2017. The Department of Transportation (DOT) does not believe the installation will require additional funding.
The proposal now heads to the House Floor to be voted on by the entire Iowa House.
Number of Deer Infected with Chronic Wasting Disease in Iowa Grows
This fall and winter there have been seven new confirmed cases of deer with chronic wasting disease, one in Clayton County and six in Allamakee County. From January 20-28, the Department of Natural Resources and volunteers collected samples from deer to test. Due to the recent cases, the DNR has expanded the testing zone in Allamakee County for the sample collection. The DNR is working vigilantly to stop the spreading of the disease to other deer.
Chronic wasting disease, a neurologic disease that impacts deer, moose, and elk, was first reported in Iowa in 2013. The disease causes weight loss and ultimately death for infected animals. While the disease can spread animal to animal, it is not believed to be transferable to humans. Since 2013, the number of infected deer in Iowa has grown to 25. The outbreak has been limited to eastern Iowa, specifically Clayton and Allamakee Counties.