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Under the Golden Dome: Financial Roads

In the first month of the legislative session it’s common to see heads of large departments visit a committee to explain their budget requests. In January, the Department of Transportation asked for $259 million dollars for its highway division.

The DOT set aside $13 million a year to buy 225,000 tons of salt. Normally they use 156,000 tons in a season.  In February, Iowa received record or near record amounts of snowfall and the DOT used a lot of salt on the roads.

They’ve already used around 220,000 tons and they need start getting another 124,000 tons to begin replenishing salt sheds for next winter.  This week, the DOT’s budget contained a supplemental appropriations of $8.7 million to do this. That will come out of this fiscal year’s budget.

When all of the snow from February started to melt in March, many communities flooded. More than half of Iowa’s counties have been approved for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration.

The Missouri River runs along much of Iowa’s western border. In March, water broke through levees in Mills and Fremont counties. Towns and farms are still submerged. Under that water are roadways. Of the roads where the water has receded, it is apparent they will need significant repair if not be completely replaced.

Right now the DOT’s budget that passed in the Senate and a House committee does not include additional money to address pending road repairs. Leaders say they need to wait and see how extensive the damage is. The majority of the funding for road repair and replacement will come from the federal government.  But there will be funding gaps.

Many departments will require flood relief funding in the months to come. Gov. Kim Reynolds says she is meeting with legislators in these final weeks of the session to determine what they do can before they adjourn.

In the last few weeks of the legislative session, more budget bills are showing up in the chambers for debate. In the House, the Infrastructure Appropriations bill passed. It helps departments across the state to make improvements, repairs, and enhancements.  

Part of this bill allocates $1 million for a task force to determine what to do about the Iowa Historical Building, which is in need of repairs. One estimate to rehabilitate is at $50 million.  To construct a new building could cost $125 million. There’s even an idea to relocate to the State Fairgrounds. This task force will submit a proposal to the legislature in 2021 recommending what action to take.

Another budget bill to pass in the House is for Administration and Regulation Appropriations.  Most departments are requesting a status quo budget compared to 2019, but the governor’s office is getting a $200,000 increase.  Democrats question if a 9 percent increase for this department is necessary when most departments are receiving nothing additional.

A Senate Appropriations Subcommittee advanced a bill raising the minimum age to use tobacco from 18 to 21. It exempts members of the military.  Some members of the vape industry oppose the bill saying vaporised versions of tobacco help young adults stop smoking. The American Heart Association also opposes. They say it doesn’t go far enough and claim e-cigarettes are just as bad combustible cigarettes for a person’s health.

The author of the bill Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, says the use of vape products amongst high school students is becoming an epidemic, and raising the age for tobacco will help curb use of tobacco with young adults.

John Pemble is a reporter for IPR