By Barb Arland-Fye
DES MOINES — Iowans were expected to weigh in Tuesday on a contentious 518-page budget that impacts everything from preschool through college funding and mental health services reform to late-term abortions and state employees’ health insurance.
With fears of a government shutdown looming because of a budget impasse, the Iowa Legislature scheduled a public hearing for late afternoon June 7 in House Chambers, after The Catholic Messenger went to press.
House File (HF) 697 is a $5.999 billion omnibus budget bill which appropriates most line items at 85 percent of the FY 2012 level for FY 2013, said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference. The omnibus bill combines about 10 different department budget bills into one bill that covers the next two years. You can find the House Republicans’ summary of the bill at www.iowahouserepublicans.com.
The contested budget bill increases the allowable growth rate to 2 percent for fiscal year 2013, but zero percent for fiscal year 2012, which starts July 1. The bill requires state employees to pay $100 a month for health care costs. The bill continues the current preschool program, but cuts state funding in half, to $35 million, according to the Iowa Legislative News Service.
On June 6, the House Ways and Means Committee added an amendment to the omnibus budget bill that would increase the School Tuition Organization (STO) program tax credits to $10 million for the tax year beginning Jan. 1, 2013. “This is good news obviously for the STO program. However, it is not known yet whether the Senate will take up the bill,” Chapman said.
Debate on the omnibus bill was expected to take place Wednesday, June 8, in the Iowa House.
While the omnibus bill was the Republicans’ attempt to resolve the impasse, Senate Democrat Bob Dvorsky labeled it a “Frankenstein” bill “of previously dead policy bills stitched together with a starvation diet for Iowa schools. This bill has no reasonable chance of passing the Iowa Senate and Republicans know that,” he said in a statement published June 6 by Iowa Legislative News Service.
In response to the budget bill, the majority Democrats in the Senate scheduled a daily set of “Listen and Learn” sessions on the state’s budget beginning June 6 at the capitol. The purpose of the sessions is to highlight points of disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans on budget issues. More information is available at www.iowasenatedemocrats.org.
Here’s a look at items in the omnibus budget bill of interest to the Iowa Catholic Conference:
• Funding for textbooks for nonpublic school students remains at a status quo level of about $600,000.
• Funding for reimbursement of public schools for transportation of nonpublic students is set at about $7 million, more than 25 percent short of actual costs.
• In its Medicaid program, the state would no longer pay for abortions of pregnancies that result from rape or incest. “I have yet to hear a convincing argument why those unborn lives should count for less than others,” Chapman said. “The state would continue to pay for abortions to save the life of the mother in the Medicaid program.”
• The bill sets “allowable growth” for K-12 public school budgets at zero percent for the 2012 fiscal year but, in a concession to Senate Democrats, would be set at 2 percent for FY 2013.
• The state’s voluntary preschool program would stay in place but funding would be cut by about half, a very significant cut. The bill also provides that public schools can spend no more than 5 percent of these funds for administering the local program — fixing a problem where some local districts do not properly reimburse their private preschool partners.
• Language for pregnancy prevention program grants is amended, eliminating the requirement for “comprehensive” services to obtain a grant. “I believe this would make it easier for abstinence-based programs to be funded,” Chapman said.
• The Department of Human Rights’ Community Advocacy and Services Division funding would be cut by more than $300,000. This includes offices for Deaf Services, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Persons with Disabilities, Latino Affairs, Status of Women and the State of African Americans.
“One can hope that the House and Senate will come together on a budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. Failing to set a budget and relying on ‘continuing resolutions’ would be a step backwards for Iowa in terms of good management of the state’s resources,” Chapman said.
In other action, the House Ways and Means Committee amended SF 534 to ban abortions after 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother. This also will most likely be debated in the House on Wednesday and is expected to pass, Chapman said. Senate support of a ban on late-term abortions, however, is unlikely. Last month the Senate voted down a motion to bring a late-term abortions bill to the floor on a party-line vote.