Week five of the session is in the books, and it has been a busy week to say the least. Bills are being reported out of committees, and there has even been some important floor debate. Soon we will be bumping up against the first funnel, a self-imposed deadline designed to speed up the process and establish a priority list of legislation to be debated. Even before the session began, the Republican caucus in the House vowed to finish this session early. I believe this is good policy and I think we can do it. Stall tactics will be used during debate—-we know that. But when that happens, we must stay at it and get our work done. It is what people expect of the Legislature.
Monday was the day after the Super Bowl, and there was a lot of talk about the game. Some were more concerned about what happened to Tom Brady’s game jersey. Discussion soon turned from football and attentions were all of a sudden focused on the task at hand, namely, establishing K-12 funding for the coming year. We are supposed to set this number within the first 30 days of the session, so it was time to get it done so schools knew how much money was going to be available. The Senate passed their spending bill last week, and the House worked very late Monday to pass an identical version. The bill was sent to the Governor for his signature, and he did sign it on Wednesday.
The bill allows for a 1.1% increase, which amounts to $40 million. The Governor had originally suggested a 2% increase which would have amounted to a $78 million jump. However, it was determined that the number was not going to fit into the state budget as a whole without cutting some other programs or agencies. I know that the agreed to number is not popular with a lot of people, and to be honest, I am not especially happy with it either. But I think we also need to look at some other numbers as well. Over the last seven years, school funding has increased by about $740 million. That is an increase of 30%. Total state funding to schools is right at $3.2 billion. That is a ton of money, and is about 43% of the state budget. When one adds in property taxes and some federal dollars, the total per student outlay is about $11,000.00. So, we are doing the best we can with what is available, even though it never seems to be enough.
I have been away from the Capitol for several days, recovering from a bout with pneumonia. During this time at home, I have had the chance to observe some of the things that have been taking place in Washington. It seems that the rhetoric and hard feelings from the last election have not gone away. There are violent protests all around the country, and even the normally steady United States Senate has fallen victim to very explosive language. This saddens me. This type of behavior is starting to trickle down into statehouses as well. Just this week, there were side-by-side articles in a statewide newspaper here in Iowa suggesting one lawmaker used a gay slur at a town hall meeting, and another legislator was regretting a remark he made on the Senate floor about sitting in his living room, and having a “clear shot” at the administration building at Iowa State University. This really hurts. This is not who we are, and it is time that we get things under control. That is what Iowans expect of us.
You may reach me at the Capitol during the week by phoning me at 515-281-3221, or at home on weekends at 712-434-5880. You may write me at the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa, 50319. My home address is P. O. Box 398, Aurelia, Iowa 51005. If you have email, please contact me at [email protected].