Iowa House Republicans are proposing state funding levels for the next fiscal year that are about the same as this year as the state expects to bring in less revenue because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The nearly $7.85 billion proposal comes after state revenue forecasters estimated Iowa will bring in about $360 million less in fiscal year 2021 than their pre-coronavirus estimate, and about $65 million less than the current fiscal year.
The main bill in the proposal sets out broad budget guidelines and directs the Department of Management to determine the details of how most of the state and federal taxpayer dollars are spent.
Typically lawmakers pass several separate budget bills with detailed spending plans for different areas of state government like health and human services, the justice system, and others.
Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said he is disappointed with the new approach.
“In 16 pages, the legislature is entirely abdicating its responsibility to make a budget, and it is allowing for the governor’s office and executive branch to have an unheard of amount of authority whether we are in emergency times or not,” Hall said.
Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, disagreed.
“We don’t feel we’re absconding with our responsibilities here,” Mohr said. “We’re adhering to legislation we passed previously about spending dollars. In a dire financial situation we feel it makes total sense to just pass a status quo budget.”
Hall said lawmakers will have no ability to weigh in on the Department of Management’s spending decisions if they disagree.
Mohr said lawmakers decided some major budget details. They plan to stick with their previous agreement to provide $99 million in new funding to K-12 schools. Their budget would increase funding for the Medicaid program, which requires more money each year.
As of Thursday afternoon, House Republicans were still negotiating with Senate Republicans to reach a budget agreement.
The plan from House Republicans also leaves it up to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to decide how to spend federal coronavirus relief money. Iowa’s state government has received more than $2.8 billion from the federal government, some of which was designated for specific uses.
On Wednesday, reporters asked Reynolds about concerns that this budgeting approach could mean Iowa taxpayers have less information about how spending decisions are made.
Reynolds said the state will develop on online “portal” to track federal coronavirus relief funding.
“So that Iowans can see all of the requests that are coming in, and how all of the dollars are being expended and allocated,” Reynolds said. “All of that will be transparent.”