Senate Joint Resolution 2 passed through its subcommittee on a 2-1 vote Tuesday afternoon. Democrat Sen. Joe Bolkcom voted against it while Republican Senators Mark Costello and Carrie Koelker supported the resolution.

“Currently most of this is our current law,” Sen. Costello said. “The idea is to make it more of a permanent thing that is harder to change.”

Current law limits spending to 99% of the current revenue and surplus. This would also put a cap at 104% of the current year’s budget.

There are mechanisms in place to allow the legislature flexibility if necessary.

“If things go from bad to worse and we get into an emergency where we think this is something we can’t abide by, there’d be a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate to overturn,” Costello said. “There is that escape clause.”

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club spoke in opposition to the resolution. Iowa State Education Association, Rural School Advocates of Iowa and Urban Education Network of Iowa are also registered against the bill.

Iowans For Tax Relief has registered in support of the bill. Victoria Sinclair of Iowans For Tax Relief spoke in favor of the resolution.

“SJR 2 is a needed protection for Iowa’s financial health,” she said. “While Iowa code restricts the legislature to spending 99 percent of the revenue collected each year, future legislators can easily pass new law to increase or override this cap. A constitutional amendment is the strongest way to control the future growth of government spending.”

Sinclair noted the Senate passed the language of SJR 2 on a 38-10 vote in 2017.

She cited fiscal analysis from the Legislative Services Agency that estimated had the language of SJR 2 been in effect since 2012, by fiscal year 2017 taxpayers would have saved nearly half a billion dollars.

Bolkcom said the amendment is unnecessary.

“As you said in your opening statement, most of this is current law,” he said. “I’m confused as to why we need to change the state’s constitution because most of this is current law. The handcuffs that this amendment would put on lawmakers is interesting, you’d give them a key on certain occasions to take the handcuffs off.”

He criticized last year’s tax cuts.

“The state spending limitation has worked effectively,” Bolkcom said. “I think the 99 percent limitation that we currently have in law requires that we place some discipline in our budget. I’m convinced the legislature is capable of that discipline. A state constitutional amendment would make it hard for future legislators to put together a state budget.”

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall