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Iowa Politics Roundup: Branstad Budget Makes $360 Million in Cuts, Increases Casino Tax PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 28 January 2011 13:56

Governor Terry Branstad emphasized fiscal responsibility in his budget address Thursday to a joint session of the Iowa legislature, proposing a budget for the next two fiscal years that makes $360 million in total budget cuts, reduces the corporate income tax and commercial property taxes, and increases the tax on state casinos.

“The rebounding agricultural economy gives us a unique opportunity to bind up Iowa’s budget wounds quickly,” Branstad said. “We must not squander that opportunity. It will not be easy. It will require difficult and painful choices. But the pain we endure by fixing our budget today will lead to great opportunities for Iowa in the future.”

Branstad’s proposed budget would spend nearly $6.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 and nearly $6.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2013. It includes $194 million in reductions throughout the state budget in the general fund, would save $89 million by not providing extra money to pay for state-worker salary increases, and would save $75 million by not continuing some programs currently funded with one-time sources.

The small-business income-tax rate would be cut in half and made a flat 6 percent, at a cost to the state of $200 million. To offset that cut, the casino tax would be increased from the current 22 percent for most casinos and 24 percent for racetrack casinos up to 36 percent.

Each state agency would face cuts of around 5 to 8 percent. Following through with promises he made on the campaign trail, Branstad’s budget would reduce money for state-funded preschool from $71 million to $43 million, and the Iowa Power Fund would be eliminated.

“Research shows preschool investments have the most long-lasting impact on children who come from homes with financial need,” Branstad said. “As such, our program will be targeted to those families and will give parents flexibility to choose the preschool environment that best meets their needs. But we cannot do this alone. All across this state, parents, private donors, and caring organizations have for years partnered with preschool providers to ensure access. I am happy to have the state of Iowa join them – as a partner, not as the sole provider.”

Democrats said Iowa corporations were the big winners in Branstad’s budget as they decried the plan for causing more painful cuts and layoffs than necessary.

“This sense of panic, this seems to be irresponsible,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines). “We have $920 million in surplus right now between our ending balance and cash reserves. Our resources right now to the state in terms of receipts are 4.5 percent above last year at this same time. So the idea that the sky is falling and we need to wipe out hundreds of state workers and we need to cause teacher layoffs, it just does not comport with the reality of our current budget situation.”

Republicans said Branstad is taking a responsible position by saying Iowa can’t continue to live beyond its means.

“When the governor called for shared sacrifice, I think that is absolutely appropriate,” said Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton). “You cannot spend more money than you take in and expect to have a healthy government, happy taxpayers, or an environment where employers choose to come. You can’t do it. The governor recognizes that.”

Marriage Amendment Clears First Hurdle

Hundreds of passionate people packed the old Iowa Supreme Court chamber at the Capitol to advocate for and against House Joint Resolution 6, which calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.

The hearing came before members of the House Judiciary Committee decided in a 13-8 vote on January 24 to move the amendment to the House floor. A public hearing on the amendment is scheduled for Monday.

Kim Jones became emotional when she talked to a legislative subcommittee about her son being gay and how that’s brought more uncertainty to his life.

“Please know that this is more than a law, and about more than just marriage,” Jones said. “This changes lives. You’re giving everyone an equal chance to believe in a part of the American dream that most of us take for granted. ... Please search your souls before you vote.”

The Reverend Matt Mardis-LeCroy of Plymouth Congregational Church, who has married many same-sex couples, urged lawmakers not to write discrimination into the state constitution.

“I plead with you on behalf of the couples that I have married: Do not reduce them to the status of second-class citizens,” he urged. “Our state is stronger when everyone has the right to make this commitment to marry the person they love.”

Mardis-LeCroy said there is more than one religious perspective on marriage in Iowa, and the current arrangement respects the diversity in this state. He said the state should not be in the awkward position of adjudicating this theological dispute, which those in the religious community have debated for thousands of years.

“With all due respect, this one is above your pay grade,” he told lawmakers.

Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames) questioned why Republicans pushing the marriage amendment would want to take away things such as hospital-visitation rights, which are only given to family members and couples who are married.

“Marriage says ’we’re a family’ like nothing else does,” she said.

But Danny Carroll, a former state lawmaker who’s now chair of the Iowa Family Policy Center, said all advocates of the resolution want to do is give the people a chance to vote.

“The people who framed our constitution probably knew what they were doing when they wrote into that constitution that all political power is inherent in the people, because they knew that was the ultimate check and balance for tyranny and for an elite few to force their will upon the bill,” Carroll said. “The people have been denied that opportunity, and they’ve been denied that opportunity for too long.”

Carroll said supporters of the marriage amendment have no malice in their hearts.

“In fact, many of those people would be quick to offer an apology to the homosexual community for the way they have been treated over the decades, for the ridicule and at least verbal if not physical abuse that they had been subject to,” Carroll said. “We reject that, Mr. Chair. Let me repeat: We reject that, just as much as we reject evangelical Christians being the brunt of name-calling, being called bigots because they simply want the chance to vote on what the definition of marriage is and has been for the last 2,000 years.”