We’ve got about a month left in session and there is still a lot of work to get done before we adjourn for the year. Most of it is related to the state budget, which is the one thing that must be done before adjournment.
After months of delays, House and Senate Republicans did finally agree to fix the state’s budget deficit this year (FY 2018). It includes $35 million in late year budget cuts with the largest portion coming from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, which will have to raise tuition on students to make up the difference. Other areas cut by their bill this year include job creation initiatives, community colleges, human services, and public safety.
In light of budget cuts and deficits the last two years, many Iowans have asked how the state got into this budget mess. The state’s budget troubles are largely the result of corporate tax giveaways that have increased dramatically and now cost Iowa taxpayers more than $500 million annually. Those giveaways, which have far outpaced basic funding increases for public schools the last several years, turned the state’s $900 million surplus a few years ago into a budget deficit.
The giveaways have led to two consecutive years of mid-year budget cuts, $144 million charged to the state’s credit card, and an illegal budget transfer made by the Governor last fall. Those budget problems have left Iowa taxpayers to foot the bill and has had a real impact on the lives of everyday Iowans.
These cuts mean more delays for those who need mental health services. Fewer services available for victims of domestic violence. Rising tuition for students at community colleges and public universities. It also means higher property taxes for homeowners and farmers.
Unfortunately, the mid-year budget cuts are a short-term fix and do nothing to protect taxpayers from the GOP’s excessive debt, unpaid bills, and general mishandling of the state budget in the future. So far, Republicans have refused to rein in, cap, or even just review the hundreds of millions in corporate tax giveaways that have driven the state in to this budget crisis.
As we begin work on the 2019 budget, my hope is that the Republican leaders have learned from their budget mistakes from previous years that put the state budget in crisis today. From what we’ve seen from them so far, that seems unlikely.
First, the Republicans in the Senate have already passed another tax giveaway for the special interests that will cost the state $1 billion every year. Since the total state budget is about $7.6 billion, that new bill alone will force massive cuts and deficit spending. It will make this year’s budget problems look tame and be more like the budget chaos in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Second, we’ve already learned Republicans plan to raise property taxes on homeowners and farmers next year to balance the state budget. The bill they’ve introduced will break the promise they made to Iowans several years ago to protect them from increases in property taxes when they slashed taxes on commercial property by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Instead of working together to find bipartisan, long-term solutions, the Governor and Republican leaders have continued to look the other way and hope the state budget mess gets better. They’ve known about this problem since last October, but still have not reached an agreement to fix it.
Democrats believe it’s time to work together to balance the state budget and restore fiscal discipline again. We need a long-term solution to the state’s budget problems because Iowans shouldn’t be forced to pay for the GOP’s budget mess any longer.
Mark Smith, House Democratic Leader