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Iowa Republican state budget condemned in public hearing

An omnibus bill drafted by Legislative Republicans was greatly denounced Tuesday at a public hearing on the eve of the Iowa House’s debate on it.

In a two-hour public hearing in the Iowa House chamber, representatives heard mostly pleas from individuals and groups who do not want to see cuts or reduced spending on education, tobacco use prevention and the Health and Human Services budget.

The omnibus bill wraps several pieces of legislation into a two-year budget proposal. Republicans made some concessions to their Democrat opponents, including two percent allowable growth for public school district budgets for one fiscal year, and leaving Iowa’s universal preschool policy untouched. Both points were of significance to the Democrats’ agenda this session.

Throughout the session, Republicans insisted on leaving allowable growth — the adjusted living cost used by schools to determine their year-to-year operating budgets — at zero percent. The funding for a two percent increase in allowable growth amounts to $65 million.

Democrats, however, remain staunchly opposed to a two-year budget, which was initially proposed by Gov. Terry Branstad. Branstad, and Senate and House Republicans are all in agreement with House File 697, Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said last week.

Several teachers testified, pleading for education funding. Outside, unions and labor federations rallied against the bill. Iowa State Education Association President Chris Bern expressed frustration.

“I am not sure how many ways we can tell you that our public school children need your help,” he said. Though House File 697 gives two percent of allowable in the second fiscal year, Branstad and Republican leaders said it is too late in the year to change allowable growth adjustments for the coming school year, as districts have already set their budgets.

“Giving schools zero percent allowable growth for next year is not a belt-tightening measure, it’s a stranglehold that will cripple our ability to provide the quality education Iowa is known for,” Bern said. “Two percent allowable growth in 2013 is not going to help schools recover from zero percent allowable growth in 2012.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky, wife of Senate Appropriations Chair Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville), considered the omnibus bill to be “historic,” but not in a flattering context because “not only because it’s the largest in Iowa’s history, but because it abandons the commitment our state has made to open, honest government. There’s no mistaking this action as a principled stand.”

However, kowtowing to Democrats’ wants will result in more spending, some testified.

Don Racheter, a lobbyist for Iowans for Tax Relief, urged House members to swiftly pass the bill as written. The bill is several hundred pages long.

“Senate Democrats are now calling for an extra $100 million in spending. And if they don’t get their way, they threaten to shut down the government,” Racheter said. “Spending one time funds on on-going programs is the thing that got us into this mess.”

In an emotionally-charged testimony, private citizen Roy Mills, of Pleasant Hill, appealed to House members to “pass this bill and cut it more.”

Mills, who is retired, told legislators that tax payers, especially older people living on a fixed income, “cannot afford what you’re doing to us.”

“You may think it’s arrogant of me to come here and lecture you, but I think it’s arrogant of you not to do your jobs.”

Debate on House File 697 — as well as a full House debate on late-term abortion regulation bill Senate File 534 — will begin tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. in the Iowa House chamber.

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