This week the House unanimously passed House File 848 making changes to Iowa’s broadband grant program. When the governor introduced her bill, it made significant changes to the existing broadband grant program and focused on increasing broadband speeds around the state. House Republicans believed the emphasis should be placed on connecting Iowans who currently do not have access to broadband internet.
The product of the resulting conversations and negotiations resulted in a bill that focused on both speeds of deployment and internet speeds. Grant funds will be eligible at varying based on the internet speed (or lack thereof) available to Iowans. Broadband infrastructure projects must deploy fiber to Targeted Service Areas to receive grant funds, except for Tier 1 areas where projects must be capable of 100/20 to receive a 50% match.
- Tier 1 areas have speeds of 25/3 or less and are eligible for up to a 75% match.
- Tier 2 areas have speeds from 25/3 to 50/? and are eligible for up to a 50% match.
- Tier 3 areas have speeds from 50/? to 80/? and are eligible for up to a 35% match
Other changes include new scoring criteria to encourage projects in Tier 1 areas, allocating 20% of grant funds for hard to serve areas within Tier 1 (e.g. based on topography, soil, or other unique local conditions), and having a designated employee to help with grant applications for state, federal, and private funds.
House File 848 sets the framework for aggressively building out Iowa’s broadband infrastructure to ensure all Iowans have access to broadband internet. However, this policy bill will have limited effect without a significant financial investment in the grant program. House Republicans have announced their goal of $100 million in funding this year.
Senate Releases Budget “Targets” for Fiscal Year 2022
Last Wednesday, Republican leadership of the Iowa Senate held an afternoon press conference to release their budget targets. Instead of the usual process of identifying how much money each budget subcommittee would propose spending in the next fiscal year, Senate Republicans released what amounted to a funding priority list.
Senate Republicans claim their budget will spend $7.999 billion in FY 2022, but they failed to disclose how much money went to each budget.
For Fiscal Year 2022, Senate Republicans stated that they intend to increase K-12 education by $55 million. The reality is this amount includes the 2.4 percent increase in state aid to schools, 2.4 percent increase in school transportation funding, and the $27.2 million “supplemental” that the Senate insists can only occur in FY 2022 instead of FY 2021. For higher education, the Senate says they will provide an additional $25 million next year but does not say how they will distribute it.
Senate Republicans proposed to give nursing homes and HCBS waiver providers a $15 million increase next year. This amount would be $3 million below the Governor’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2022. The biggest increase in this budget area comes from the Senate’s mental health levy bill, which has the state provide $50 million to replace half the mental health property tax levy and put $10 million in a new mental health risk pool.
For public safety, Senate Republicans said they would increase funding to these programs by $13 million. Within that amount, the Department of Public Safety receives a $5 million hike in funding while the Department of Corrections gets additional $4 million from the Senate’s wish list. That amount is $1 million below the Governor’s proposed budget.
Maybe the biggest mystery is what the Senate is planning to do with the Governor’s push for expanding broadband. The Governor is pushing for a $150 million funding stream each year over the next three years to improve high-speed internet access all over Iowa. Over the weekend, Speaker Grassley said on Iowa Press that House Republicans were looking at $100 million for this effort.
And what are Senate Republicans doing for broadband? That depends on your source. The Senate Republican press release says “One time expenditures for broadband are not included in these targets.” Individual senators have told people that it is still up for discussion or it will be funded with federal COVID relief dollars or it could be out of the FY 2021 ending balance.
Regardless, House Republicans will begin moving actual budget bills in the next week. I am happy to represent you and bring our NW Iowa values to the concrete of Des Moines.