Branstad, Reynolds hear Iowans’ budget ideas
BY ROD BOSHART
Gazette Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES - Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds heard pitches Wednesday for school choice vouchers, income tax reform and a full two-year state budget plan during a hearing where members of the public could make their suggestions on how state money should be spent.
Branstad worked to downplay expectations of the nearly 20 Iowans, many of them lobbyists or association representatives who offered budget ideas, noting that the current state budget likely will have to be trimmed by at least $100 million and prospects for the fiscal 2018 and 2019 state budgets are challenging given that revenues are growing but not as much as had been hoped.
“The big challenge right now is the fiscal year that we’re in. We’re going to have to go in and do some de-appropriation,” said Branstad. “I’m not going to do what the previous governor did and do a stupid across-the-board cut that creates all sorts of havoc and problems.”
Before the budget hearing, Branstad said he met privately with GOP leaders who will hold majorities in both the Iowa House and Iowa House when the Legislature convenes Jan. 9 and they were in concurrence that spending cuts not affect K-12 schools, Medicaid programs or property tax credits.
“We would have to selectively make other reductions in order to get the budget for fiscal year 2017 in balance,” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to work together to get that done.”
Branstad said he hopes the GOP-led Legislature will pass a “full two-year budget” that does not partially fund the second year. He said he will lay out his two-year plan on Jan. 10 with his Condition of the State address but told reporters Wednesday “ideally I would like to get to 2 percent” in increased state supplemental aid for K-12 school districts.
“That’s not going to be easy in light of the budget limitations we’re facing,” he noted.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Susan Fenton, a lobbyist for the Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education, urged Branstad to support the creation of educational savings accounts that would give parents flexibility in using state tax dollars to apply toward tuition, textbooks, tutoring or online learning in the public or private school of their choice.
“An ESA program will allow true universal choice and inject the positive force of market competition into the Iowa educational system,” Fenton said.
Audra Meyers of Clive, a former principal at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Des Moines, also advocated for “robust education choice” in Iowa during her comments to Branstad, Reynolds and top aides. She said the roughly $6,500 in per-pupil state spending should “follow the student” in “leveling the playing field” in school choice matters.
“Many families are not in a financial position to select the type of education that is best for their child,” Meyers said. “Instead, their address determines the education that their child will receive.”
Branstad, whose three children attended Catholic schools in the Des Moines area, told reporters after the hearing that he is a “strong supporter” of private schools, but added that there are “a lot of issues” to consider in the state’s tight budget situation.
Sharon Presnall, a lobbyist for the Iowa Bankers Association, advocated that legislators and the governor look for “thoughtful” ways to reform Iowa’s income tax code through reforms that bring fairness to the system rather than having government pick winners and losers via various credits and deductions. She said tax changes likely would have to be phased-in over years given the state’s budget situation and address federal deductibility which complicates Iowa’s income tax and makes Iowa’s rates appear to be uncompetitive in national rankings.