The Iowa Constitution requires that the State of Iowa have a balanced budget, but the Iowa Senate has endorsed a constitutional amendment that would enforce more restraints on state spending.
Senator Charles Schneider, a Republican from West Des Moines, is a leading advocate for the proposal.
“It helps us avoid the boom-and-bust cycles of budgeting,” Schneider said. “It provides fiscal discipline during periods of strong economic growth. It helps us make sure that we don’t over-extend our budget.”
Senator Pam Jochum of Dubuque says these proposed restraints would prevent legislators of the future from functioning in times of crisis.
“The Constitution to me, to government, to our democracy…you don’t mess with it without a whole lot of thought,” Jochum said.
Jochum and nine other senators, all Democrats, voted against the proposal. Republican Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa was among the 38 senators who supported the proposal.
“This is the absolute way we can hold future legislators accountable,” Chelgren said. The proposed amendment would take the state law that currently limits state spending to 99 percent of expected tax revenue and make that law part of the constitution. It also would impose a new limit on how much state spending may increase from year-to-year. Over-riding these “constitutional caps” on spending would require a vote by at least two-thirds of the legislature along with the governor’s approval.
Amending the state constitution takes years — and the final decision is made by voters in a statewide election. This proposed constitutional amendment must clear the Iowa House by 2018, and then be approved again by the House and Senate in 2019 or 2020 before it could be submitted to voters in 2020.