Week 13 of the 2021 Session is in the books. No other committees are meeting as Appropriations and Ways and Means are tackling the budget and tax issues of the state. Below (in my electronic newsletter, I’m assuming the newspapers will lack the space requirements) I will post a list of bills that 2nd survived funnel.
In the coming weeks the Appropriation Committee will pass budget bills put together by the Appropriations Budget Subcommittees. Admin and Reg, Ag and Natural Resources, Economic Development, Education, Health and Human Services, Justice Systems and Transportation are how it is broken up. We’ve passed out of Approps the Admin/Reg, Transpo, Ag/Nat Res, and Justice budgets. I sit on Eco Devo, which will run next week, but I’ll update you on some significant budget items.
The big change in Admin and Reg is the increase of $95 million to the Broadband Grant Program to bring the total to $100 million. Remember, the Governor proposed $150 million over three years, and this is where the House Republicans have landed. There’s a chunk of Federal money that also could be used to pair with or appropriate in different aspects of connecting Iowans to a reliable and fast internet connection.
The Justice Systems budget bill, containing a substantial increase in funding for the Department of Corrections, allocates more than $20 million new dollars to the Department of Corrections, covering nine prisons and nine community-based correctional facilities. This is the biggest increase to the Department of Corrections’ budget in a decade.
I feel confident from budget conversations between the Iowa House and the Department of Corrections, that this $20 million increase would allow them to not only retain every worker they have, but fill many of the unfunded vacancies that exist in the current budget. Unfortunately our friends across the aisle voted against the increase, claiming it needed to be more. Like most of our budget targets, it is always “more, more, more!”, with little input on how much more. To highlight this point, a local union president was asked what increase would be better for this budget and he was quoted saying “I don’t know, pick a number.” Pick a number? Come on, we owe Iowans more responsibility in budgeting than that.
The Justice Systems budget also included a $9.4 million increase in funding for the department of public safety. Additionally, the budget includes an additional $2.5 million for a Public Safety Equipment fund. The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budget also allocates $2.5 million to the Public Safety Equipment Fund, bringing the total to $5 million. This fund will ensure the Department of Public Safety has the most up-to-date equipment and can stay on top of equipment maintenance. Our caucus was elected on a platform that included strong support of our law enforcement and we are keeping that promise to our constituents.
The Iowa House has released their Education budget this week containing no new money for Iowa’s regent Universities. Why? We have some serious questions about how the regents are operating their budgets. While enrollment has been going down, administrative costs have continued to go up. Regents employees have increased by 28 percent over the last decade. But only 9 percent of those new employees are faculty positions. The majority are non-faculty positions that we know very little about and it is unclear what value they add to the students. Additionally, it’s become clear that the regents are not doing enough to protect the free speech rights of their students and staff. Until everyone on their campuses has freedom of expression, changes must be made to the way they do business.