Lawmakers hoping to give schools a slim two-percent funding increase in 2004 may have to give up that hope. Senate appropriations committee chair Jeff Lamberti says even tapping reserve accounts, Iowa may only be able to afford the funding level schools get for 2003. Lamberti says it’s hard to tell people he’s being a good steward of their money if he gives an increase when there’s a 500-million-dollar budget problem, though he says he’ll do things like look into borrowing one-time money to keep the promise. Even if they freeze the budget, Lamberti says there will still be a 200- to 300-million-dollar shortfall. Lamberti says the only areas that would get more money than schools next year are Medicaid and corrections, because federal law requires funding those adequately. But the ranking democrat on the house appropriations committee says his party will fight any effort to back off from the promised two-percent school funding hike. Dubuque Representative Pat Murphy says there are some funds out there to tap, and the priorities of Democrats are education, healthcare and growing the economy, and they’ll follow the governor’s lead though they don’t want to change the funding the schools were promised. Murphy says a complete freeze on education spending will be tough to “sell” to the state’s Democratic caucus. A budget freeze would mean department heads have to come up with their own way to give state workers contract raises. The state’s largest union is currently negotiating for a pay raise, and if they get it, more layoffs may be necessary to hold the line on spending…………………The Iowa Alcholic Beverages Division is examining the compliance rate of chain stores in Iowa when to comes to not selling tobacco to minors. Division Administrator Lynn Walding says Iowa had a 93-percent compliance rate last year, but there were some weak areas. He says some of the major retail outlets fell back in their compliance and he says they wanted to analyze why that happened. He says it’s important to have the chain stores in line. He says they focus on the chain stores because you can make an impact because of the number of stores they have selling tobacco. Walding says they just want to be sure the state doesn’t fall back on its effort. He says the retailers have definitely improved, and he says the division’s goal is to continue with a 90-percent or better compliance rate. The division conducts the checks throughout the year at the retailers across the state……………Iowa farmers are facing a roadblock to exports of beef to Europe, and there may not be any break in sight. Roxanne Clemens is director of MATRIC, the Midwest Agribusiness Trade Research and Information Center. Clemens says growth hormones routinely used in beef cattle are banned by the European Union, but it’s tough to certify beef hormone-free.The certification process is very rigorous, she explains, and the USDA program requires “full traceability” from the birth of a calf until the time it goes through the packing plant. And, it costs far more to get that beef certified hormone-free for the European market than it would for domestic sales. The FDA has determined hormone-treated beef is safe so there is no rigorous inspection process in place, and for American sales of hormone-free beef the process is simple and far less expensive than what they must do for export-ready hormone-free beef. Clemens says things aren’t likely to improve for Iowa beef exporters, with ten more nations ready to adopt the strict rules of the European Union.If they adopt those policies, she says we’ll lose most of those markets because meat they’re already buying from other nations is less expensive despite the stringent rules. Clemens says that combination may be too high a barrier for Iowa beef producers to hurdle for now.
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