Republicans in the Iowa House intend to eliminate one of the state’s economic development funds. In addition, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have voted to slash in half the budget for the state program that provides preschool to “at risk” three, four and five year olds.
Representative Nick Wagner of Marion says he and his fellow Republicans are doing what they were elected to do.
“I believe the elections of November sent a very strong message that people don’t want bigger government. They don’t want more government spending. They don’t want more intervention in their lives,” Wagner says. “They want less government, less government spending. That’s what we’re doing here.”
Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, is critical of the G.O.P. spending plan.
“Continuing to think that you can do more with less is insanity,” Winckler says.
The House Appropriations Committee has endorsed a wide-ranging bill that would provide no growth in the level of general state aid for public schools for the next year. Representative Nate Willems, a Democrat from Lisbon, warns small, rural schools will be squeezed.
“I’m not sure how they’re going to survive,” Willems says. “I talk to my administrators quite often. I talk to parents and teachers. Their backs are truly against the wall.”
Wagner, the Republican from Marion, says the G.O.P.’s plan would provide more state aid than schools got this academic year because it provides extra cash to make up for budget cuts in the past.
“So I guess only in state government is an increase of $216 million really a cut,” Wagner says.
Democrats also criticized the move to completely eliminate the state’s “Grow Iowa Values” fund. The fund was created during Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack’s administration and the money goes to businesses that promise to retain or create new jobs in Iowa. Wagner says changing the state’s tax climate would do more to create jobs.
“Hand outs and picking winners and losers is not the right way to go,” Wagner says. “Having a favorable tax policy and climate, having a good regulatory climate, encouraging growth is the way to go.”
The Republican plan also sets aside over $100 million in state cigarette taxes into a separate account, to be used for the state’s government-paid Medicare health insurance program. Representative Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, says if that money were added to overall the bottom line, the Republicans’ state budget plan would go over their $5.999 billion limit.
“The Emperor has no clothes, but in this case he has a fig leaf by saying they’re under $6 billion,” Murphy says.
Republicans counter that Democrats created the fund a few years ago when the cigarette tax was raised by a dollar-per-pack, and they’re merely making the transfer more transparent.