This week was oddly quiet at the Capitol given that Friday, April 1st is the second funnel deadline. The deadline means all bills that do not have approval by either the House or the Senate and a full committee in the other legislative chamber are done for the year. I think the quiet this week is somewhat due to split control of the House and Senate. Few bills considered to this point in the session have support of the majority in both chambers.
I continue to be frustrated by the lack of action on SF 512, an appropriation to the indigent defense fund. Iowa signed contracts with attorneys appointed by courts to represent Iowans that cannot afford an attorney on their own. Iowa has not paid these court-appointed attorneys since at least January because the fund has run out of money. SF 512 would pass the House unanimously (as it did the Senate) if brought to a vote, but House Republicans continue to use it as a bargaining chip in negotiating issues unrelated to the fund.
I received multiples messages this week from attorneys across the state. One is firing her legal secretary this week. Another is closing his small business altogether. I heard from an ex-wife of a court-appointed attorney that she is going to lose the home she shares with her child because her ex-husband cannot pay child support. How someone could hear these stories and not act to make sure the state pays its bills is beyond me.
I have made a motion in the Appropriations committee, talked with my Republican colleagues and made a speech on the floor of the House. The bottom line is nothing is going to move until House Republicans decide to allow it.
On to the update…
In This Issue
1. Two-Year Budgeting
2. Mental Health Service Redesign Proposal Released
3. Iowa Schools Still in the Lurch
4. Capitol Visits
Today the Iowa House passed its first budget bill of the legislative session, approving transportation spending for the next two fiscal years. This is the first two-year budget approved by the House since 1982 when the state switched from biennial to annual appropriations. Putting aside the pros and cons of the theory of a two-year budget, the structure is not in place for the House to do anything more than guess at revenue projections for fiscal year 2013.
Currently the Revenue Estimating Conference meets in December of each year to provide the Legislature with a nonpartisan estimate of revenues for the fiscal year to be approved during the next session. We are bound to spend no more than 99% of the revenue projection. The REC met last week, and while it determined revenues would be over 3% higher for fiscal year 2012, it chose not to provide any estimate for fiscal year 2013. Even if the REC had provided an estimate for 2013, how accurately could it predict revenues for June 2013?
Moving to a two-year budget also cedes to the Governor a huge amount of spending authority reserved for the legislature in the Iowa Constitution. At the very least the Governor needs to sign into law legislation significantly reducing his virtually unlimited transfer authority. Finally, it was suggested today on the floor the Legislature can always revisit the fiscal year 2013 budget during the next session. If that’s the case, why don’t we just wait for the more accurate projection the REC will deliver in December of this year?
Mental Health Service Redesign Proposal Released
A subcommittee of the House Human Resources Committee met during the past month and heard from various providers and consumers on redesigning the mental health delivery system. House File 626, a concept bill, already passed the Human Resources Committee.
The subcommittee continues to meet and last week House Republicans released an amendment that lays out their plan to redesign the mental health services system. The goals of the plan are:
Iowans should have access to the same level of services no matter where they live in the state;
Iowans using the system should have a local resource for assistance navigating the system; and
County property taxes should no longer be required to fund the system.
Under the proposal, the Department of Human Services (DHS) will divide Iowa into six regions with a lead agency in each. The lead agency will be a Community Mental Health Center (CMHC) providing core mental health services to residents in the region. The CMHC will also work with other providers to meet the established core service requirements. The service system redesign proposal would go into place starting July 1, 2012.
House File 626 is in the House Appropriations committee. I am not opposed to redesigning the mental health delivery system, but the new version must provide equal or better service to all Iowans and come with the requisite amount of state money to fund it. Projections I have seen show a $175 million funding gap the state would need to fill. Given the House Republicans’ position on the state of the budget I have no idea how that need would be met.
Tomorrow I am meeting with Chuck Palmer, Director of the Department of Human Services, and hope to work through some of my questions. I am looking for input on this issue, so send me an email if you have any.
Iowa Schools Still in the Lurch
With the deadline for schools to set their budget for the next year just two weeks away, Iowa districts are still in the lurch because the state has not decided how much aid to provide next year. Senate Democrats approved a modest 2% growth rate for next year while House Republicans want to cut $1.3 million from the Cedar Rapids Community School District next year.
April 1st marks the 33rd day the Legislature is in violation of state law for not enacting a school funding provision referred to as allowable growth. The final day for schools to certify their budgets is April 15th. Unfortunately, this is when inaction has real consequences because schools will most likely assume no increase in funding per pupil and certify a lower budget.
School districts are also under pressure because the Legislature has not reached resolution on preschool funding. House Republicans want to cut 70% out of the state’s current preschool budget. This week Governor Branstad referred to his 60% cut as the middle ground. I have a wholly different view of the importance of investing in our youngest and will continue to fight for a better outcome for our kids.
Erik Miles was at the Capitol on Monday as the House Commerce Committee considered a bill to approve add waste gasification to the definition of alternate energy. Kim Colberg and Steve Carroll of the Linn County REC visited Tuesday for REC Day at the Capitol. Betty King and Eugene Anderson were in Des Moines on Wednesday. We had a timely discussion of mental health funding and delivery.
Enjoy the rest of the week!