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Budget Concerns, Educational Funding Among Topics During Legislative Townhall Meeting

April 10, 2018
By Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

by Dan Voigt

Constituents of State Representative Megan Jones and State Senator David Johnson gathered Saturday morning to discuss a wide variety of topics, but one common theme ran through the discussions, budgets. Saturday's Legislative Town Hall Meeting was the final for the season, as the Iowa Legislature nears the end of the scheduled session for this year.

In her opening remarks, Representative Megan Jones spoke highly of recently-appointed Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Mike Naig, a Cylinder native. "It's been very exciting to see the transition of Secretary Naig as the new Secretary of Agriculture. He is an excellent choice for the position."

Article Photos

LEGISLATIVE?TOWNHALL?MEETING - State Representative Megan Jones and State Senator David Johnson listen as Emmetsburg City Council member Mike Hermanson discusses a concern over pending legislation on budgetary backfills for community governements at Saturday morning’in the final Legislative Town Hall meeting of the season. A wide variety of topics were discussed during the session at the Iowa Welcome Center. -- Dan Voigt photo

In his opening remarks, State Senator David Johnson jumped right on the issue foremost on his mind - budgets. "A week from Tuesday, the lawmakers' per-diem runs out for this session. There have been 10 major bills on budgets that have been introduced during the session, and not one of them has passed out of the Senate Chamber. Each one of those bills is based on different philosophies."

The Senator went on to speak to a question asked at a previous townhall meeting regarding the Iowa Revenue Estimating Committee (REC), and when that group missed their revenue estimations that lawmakers used for budgeting.

"There has been a proposal for a reserve account that would cover when the REC misses their estimates,"?Johnson explained. "I hope that doesn't happen. To me, when that estimate is wrong, it means that we're not managing our finances very well."

Shifting gears, Johnson said the Legislature has to continue to work its way through the farm recovery, because it doesn't just apply to soybeans, but to ethanol and other products as well. "Iowa is Ground Zero for all these tariffs, for the Renewable Fuel Standard."

Emmetsburg City Council member Mike Hermanson asked the lawmakers about the current push at the Capitol to eliminate the "Backfill Legislation,"?which provides funding for governmental entities in special circumstances.

"It seems that rural Iowa that gets hard hit and needs this help,"?Hermanson said.

"The purpose wast to not help government grow,"?Representative Jones answered. " but to support the government until their community grew to support it. The talk to reduce that fund isn't supposed to cut it and make communities go cold turkey."

"For Emmetsburg, it amounts to $60,000 a year, and that's pretty significant,"?Hermanson noted.

"Governor Branstad promised there would always be a backfill and I did too," Johnson added. "There is a plan to ratchet it down 20-22 percent, or down to $20 million from $152 million, but it's just a mess. This is no time for us to be doing this. Maybe 10 counties in the state are thriving - but that means 89 are not. We are not ready for these cuts right now."

Cuts to funding for education were also discussed at length during the meeting, with former State Senate President Jack Kibbie observing that funding for Community Colleges continues to be cut, even when today's world is in desperate need for skilled workers.

"We cut $11 million out of the education budget, primarily from ISU?and Iowa,"Johnson noted,"And we cut a half-million from the community colleges and left UNI?alone. It wasn't a good deal, because education is our best economic development tool in the state."

Jane Campbell of Iowa Lakes Community College noted that if the state wanted rural Iowa to continue to grow, it needs to support community colleges as a first priority.

"It sounds odd for me to say this, but we are grateful the de-appropriation was only $500,000,"?Campbell said. "I ask you both to champion the community colleges and funding, as I?believe the Governor has mentioned $3 million for FY?19."

"Community Colleges do need to be first in line,"?Johnson agreed. "15 of 17 had bond issues passed and what does that say to the Legislature??It says the people value their community colleges. I;m not sure the Legislature is paying attention."

"Iowa Workforce Development keeps trying to take credit for the community college, but at the same time, take things away from them,"?Jones said. "Our community colleges really serve all people in Iowa, not just students, but all adults."

"We need to remember that community colleges are still getting the same 201/4 cents per $1,000 since 1967,"?Jack Kibbie pointed out. "Most people pay more for fire protection thatn they do for their Community Colleges in taxes."



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