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Capitol Review 3/18/17

Budget outlook updated

The Revenue Estimating Conference met this week to make their latest revenue projections for both the current and following fiscal years.

The REC has continued to cite low commodity prices and a sluggish agricultural economy as a driving factor for the lower than anticipated revenue figures.

Inaccurate revenue projections are not limited to Iowa.  At least 30 states, whose economies largely rely on agriculture and energy, have had to make budget reductions in the middle of their fiscal year.

FY 2017
The REC lowered the FY17 revenue projection by $131 million.  This is in addition to the $117 million in reductions that were done at the beginning of session.

With only a few months left in the fiscal year, additional budget reduction opportunities remain limited. Gov. Branstad has proposed using the Cash Reserve account to make up the budget shortfall.  If this happens, House Republicans will not adjourn session without a plan to refill the cash reserve account.

FY 2018
The REC lowered the FY 18 revenue projection by $191 million.  This leaves about $6 million available in new revenue for the fiscal year.  An additional $40 million has already been approved for schools.

Moving Forward

House Republicans’ plan to effectively manage the state budget is threefold:

  1. Taxpayers and the Legislature need more accurate revenue estimates from the Revenue Estimating Conference.
  2. A hard look needs to be taken at the “what” and “where” taxpayer money is used to make sure Iowans are getting the best value and their priorities are being met.
  3. Every tax credit is on the table to ensure Iowa’s taxpayers are getting a good deal.

Democrats are criticizing the budget management of Republicans but conveniently leave out the fact that they supported plans that increase state spending by more than $1 BILLION over the last two years.  Without the Republican majority’s strong stand, key areas like local school budgets would be facing deep cuts.  Iowans can count on House Republicans to stand strong against reckless government spending ideas. 

Waterloo Schools Show Largest Reading Improvements for Struggling Readers

A new briefing from the Department of Education this week provided numbers to support the Department’s conclusion that Iowa’s Early Literacy efforts, created in 2012’s Education Reform initiative, are proving successful.  From the report:  “Efforts that began in 2012 to systemically implement a statewide early warning system have already had a positive impact in the growth of literacy skills for students in kindergarten through third grade…Ultimately, these efforts have put Iowa on track to ensuring Iowa students are proficient readers by the end of third grade.”

Iowa’s law put in place an early warning system to identify struggling readers early through a screening system, provide intervention and monitoring to get students back on track, involve parents in the process through continuous communication, and ultimately provide a final effort through a summer reading program.  The law also may require the retention of third graders who aren’t proficient by the end of third grade, provided they don’t meet any good cause exemptions or attend the summer school program.

The legislature then backed the efforts with specific funding ($8 million annually) that supplements existing funding for early intervention and reading ($30 million annually), and coaching and support systems for teachers to help provide focused instruction on reading instruction. 

What the report this week detailed were some of the successes of the program.

  • In the 2015/16 school year, from Fall to Spring, the number of students who met or exceeded reading benchmarks grew from 63.4% of students to 67.6% (a 4.2% increase)
  • In terms of actual student numbers, 8,923 went from below to at or above benchmarks
  • Of 398 school districts and nonpublic schools using the early warning system, 242 saw an increase in the number of students at benchmark (60.8%)
  • The top 10 districts with the highest growth saw increases in the number of students moving from below to above benchmarks increase by 19.5% to 32.2%
  • 53 districts saw double digit percentage increases
  • Waterloo saw that largest increase for urban districts with a 14.6% increase

Worker’s Compensation Reform

Iowa’s workers compensation system was originally designed to provide benefits to injured workers without the need to hire an attorney.  The system should be simpler so an injured employee knows exactly what kind of benefits they can rely upon.  Costs need to be reduced for workers and employers.

Iowa's workers compensation system is easily exploited by people who want to game the system; such as greedy attorneys taking advantage of injured workers.  The system is meant to provide a safety net to workers injured or disabled at work, not provide generous payouts to those who want to exploit the generous nature of our system.

HF 518 Worker’s Compensation Reform bill is designed to help workers get on with their lives and back to work, not force them into the court room.  We want to safeguard the benefits to legitimate injured workers, and help to prevent future injuries.

Bold solutions move forward in the Iowa House this week

School Funding Flexibility
House Files 564 and 565 provide schools with more flexibility, allowing locally elected officials to utilize unused funds that are typically reserved for specific purposes.  These bills recognize that no two school districts are exactly alike and will allow each school district to better meet the specific needs of our students and teachers.  I am honored to spearhead and guide both of these pieces of legislation through the Iowa House. 

Protecting Young Iowans from Synthetic Drugs
House File 296 will protect Iowa’s kids by keeping deadly synthetic drugs off the streets, while also making it easier to prosecute sellers of those drugs.

Supporting Families with Autistic Children
House File 215 addresses the unique challenges parents of children with autism face by extending insurance coverage for autism treatments to Iowa families.  Coverage for autism can be very expensive but is very beneficial for future growth.  This legislation ensures access to programs with proven, positive outcomes in the child’s development.

Privacy Protections for the 21st Century
House Joint Resolution 1 extends Fourth Amendment privacy protections to Iowans’ electronic communications and data, ensuring Constitutional rights keep up with today’s technology.

Reining in an Out of Control Federal Government
House Joint Resolution 12 calls for a Convention of the States to address the Federal Government’s power and jurisdiction.

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