December 15, 2017
Legislature Forced to Make Budget Cuts Again
Legislature Forced to Make Budget Cuts Again
After Iowa’s nonpartisan budget experts met again this week, Iowa lawmakers will be forced to make another round of budget cuts like last session in addition to paying back $144 million in debt borrowed by the Governor and GOP last year. The latest round of budget cuts will be the fourth time the state has had to make budget adjustments in the last 12 months.
At the December Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) meeting, the state’s budget experts didn’t change their revenue estimate for fiscal year 2018. The budget estimate was downgraded earlier this year to $7.237 billion, which is $127 million lower than they set in March. The change means the Legislature will need to make a $35 million budget adjustment to the existing fiscal year 2018 budget just to get to keep the state budget balanced.
The Legislature could make a larger adjustment if they wanted to account for the possibility that more revenue will be needed once the books close on June 30 in case the accruals don’t result in a revenue growth of $72 million, as they did for fiscal year 2017.
FY 2019 Revenue Growth
The Revenue Estimating Conference’s predictions for fiscal year 2019 show growth of 4% compared to FY 2018, for revenues totaling $7.527 billion. Governor Reynolds will use this estimate to create her budget recommendations for FY 2019. The Legislature will use this December estimate, or the upcoming estimate in March; whichever is lower.
Iowa Leads the Nation in High School Graduation Rate
In April, the Iowa Department of Education released data that showed 91.3% of students in Iowa’s Class of 2016 graduated within four years, up from 90.8% for the Class of 2015, which led the nation.
Now, a new National Center for Education Statistics report shows Iowa again leads the country in high school graduation rates when compared with other states. Iowa’s 2016 graduation rate was the fifth year in a row to show an increase.
The NCES report has the nationwide graduation rate at an all-time high of 84.1%. The only other state with a graduation rate higher than 90% was New Jersey, at 90.1%.
Iowa’s Largest Retirement System is Strong
A new report on Iowa’s Public Employment Retirement Systems (IPERS) found the state’s largest retirement system remains strong and is one the best run retirement systems in the country. Approximately 1 in 10 Iowans are members, and depend on the system for a secure retirement.
The IPERS valuation report, which was conducted by an independent actuary firm, found it maintains a funding ratio of over 80% and is on track to pay off the unfunded liability.
IPERS has been pro-active in closing a shortfall with reforms now in place to pay off all liability within 30 years, similar to a mortgage. The shortfall was created by over a decade of underfunding and the economic recession in 2008. Changes made by the Legislature in 2010 have guided IPERS to a strong position and a reliable retirement plan for its members.
The IPERS trust fund has approximately $31 billion in assets and was created in 1953 as a way to attract and retain a strong workforce. Iowans from every county in the state are members of IPERS and the system puts over $1 billion back into the Iowa economy.
Medical Cannabidiol Board Not Recommending to Increase THC
The first report from the Medical Cannabidiol Board (Board) to the Iowa Legislature will not contain a recommendation to increase the THC amount allowed under Iowa’s medical cannabidiol law, which is currently at 3%. Groups representing persons with medical conditions have continually asked and recommended the Legislature and the Board increase the 3% limit so that patients can obtain effective medicine.
Each January, the Board is required to submit a report to the Legislature detailing their activities, and at their December 1st meeting they discussed and decided upon which issues are to be included regarding recommendations. Some of the Board’s recommendations are: that mid-level providers (such as physician assistants) be allowed to certify a person’s medical condition; eliminating the cap on the number of times that the Board can meet during a calendar year; and providing an appropriation to the Department of Public Health for implementation of the law.
The rules regarding form and quantity of the cannabidiol that will be available to patients needs to go before the Board of Medicine for approval and then it will be submitted to the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee. These rules will replace the current language which limits a patient or primary caregiver to having a maximum of 32 ounces in their possession at one time.
The next meeting for the Board will be on Friday, January 19, 2018, and handouts from each Board meeting can be found at https://idph.iowa.gov/mcarcp/meetings.
Wreaths Across America Event
To show support and remembrance for our veterans, Iowa will be participating in the Wreaths Across America event on December 16, 2017. This event started in 1992 when 5,000 remembrance wreaths were donated and placed at the headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. Now, wreaths are placed at more than 1,200 locations across the country and overseas.
The Iowa Veterans Cemetery will place wreaths on every headstone and memorial. To learn more about this event, and how to raise funds to sponsor wreaths, please visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.
Deer Season in Iowa
Iowa’s second shotgun deer season runs December 9th through the 17th. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) expects around 120,000 deer hunters to be out across the state during these seasons. To make sure everyone comes home safe, hunters are asked to remember the following hunting guidelines:
• Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
• Be sure of the target and what is beyond it
• Keep finger off the trigger until ready to fire
• Keep the barrel clear and choose the proper ammunition
• Wear plenty of blaze orange
• Unload the firearm when crossing obstacles
• Put off the hunt if visibility is poor due to weather conditions
Also, the DNR is requesting deer tissue samples in order to test for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a neurological disease that is circulating throughout much of the country’s deer population. For more information regarding CWD, and how to donate samples, please visit http://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Deer-Hunting/Deer-Disease-Information?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
For those finding themselves with extra meat, please consider donating to Iowa’s Help Us Stop Hunger (HUSH) program. The program works with 78 participating lockers to provide high quality meat to needy Iowans through the Food Bank of Iowa. The program is funded by a dollar surcharge on each deer tag purchase and there is no fee paid to the lockers. During the 2016-2017 hunting season, more than 2,800 deer were donated, creating about 550,000 meals for the people of Iowa. More information on the HUSH program can be found at www.iowahush.com.
University of Iowa Ends Summer School Grants
The University of Iowa (U of I) has ended a summer school grants program due to state budget cuts. Starting in 2014, the program was designed to help students finish their degrees in four years by taking summer courses.
Students that were in the “Summer Hawk” program were not on tract to graduate on a timely basis due to a major change, or needing to retake a course, or they simply needed to spread out their courses to manage their time. The U of I said with the diminishing resources from the state, funding to the Summer Hawk program would be rerouted to other efforts to improve retention and graduation rates.
In the summer of 2017, the Summer Hawk program provided $6.2 million to 2,161 students. For the new budget year that started on July 1, 2017, the Legislature cut funding to the University of Iowa by over $15 million compared to the start of the previous budget year. Including Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa, the Regents were cut by over $27 million during the last session.
The Regents have also indicated that they will delay setting the percent of increase for the 2018-19 school year until February to get a better indication as to what the Legislature may do, and hopefully avoid a mid-year tuition increase as they did the previous year.