Bare bones budgets keeping state agency funding at the levels of three years ago won preliminary approval at the statehouse today, as work began in earnest on next year’s overall state budget.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern about short-staffing in public safety jobs.
On a party-line vote, the GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee approved what they’re calling status quo funding for the justice system, which covers highway patrol, prisons, and the state crime lab.
Justice System Budget Chair Rep. Gary Worthan (R-Storm Lake) says agencies including the Department of Corrections and the Department of Criminal Investigation won’t get brought back up to authorized staffing.
“Not to try and gloss it over or anything, this is holding our own in the department of public safety," Worthan said. "We're not going to be able to increase in DCI or Highway Patrol.
"I too have concerns with Highway Patrol or DOC," Worthan added.
The budget increases funding for next year for the justice system by about $12 million. However, in most cases that “makes agencies whole,” restoring the mid-year budget cuts enacted earlier this year.
In other words, the budget for next year brings programs back to what the legislature initially approved for this year.
The budget leaves at least 50 state patrol positions unfilled. It allows for two new positions at the state crime lab, which has been plagued by slow DNA analysis.
“They anticipate it will still take about three years to get the DNA backlog down to about a 60 day turnaround,” Worthan said.
The ranking Democrat on the Appropriations committee said public safety is at stake.
“A status quo budget for what the state was providing these programs three years ago means we are not keeping up,” said Rep. Chris Hall (D-Sioux City). “It's endangering some of our state workers, it's endangering our taxpayers and families across the state.”
“This represents movement in the right direction to help them stop the bleeding,” said Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton).
The overall $7.4 billion House Republican budget represents a 3.2 percent increase over this year’s budget after the mid-year cuts. It takes into account a $100 million price tag for a tax cut bill that is working its way through the House and still has to be negotiated with the Senate.
Rep. Worthan expressed hope that the state economy will improve so that programs can be better funded in the future.
“Hopefully our farms and our businesses continue to have success and we can do better in the out years,” Worthan said.