Republican legislators are moving quickly today on their revised budget cuts proposal, which totals $88 million in cuts, along with $25 million in tax credit transfers to cover the recent budget shortfall. Going unused once again this year is Iowa’s Rainy Day fund, which has $738 million in it for FY 2017, and is expected to have $727 million for FY 2018.
The Senate is debating the matter this morning with a vote likely to come soon afterward.
The cuts in the de-appropriations bill hits many agencies and institutions hard, including the regent universities ($8 million in cuts to the U of I and ISU, $2 million to UNI), community colleges ($3 million cut), the judiciary ($3 million cut) and the department of corrections ($5.5 million cut).
But the largest chunk comes out of the Department of Human Services. Republicans look to reduce DHS’s non-Medicaid budget by $22 million and its Medicaid budget by $13.8 million. That makes up about 40% of the total budget cuts.
While the new plan does not detail what specific areas will be cut from DHS, the Governor’s previous proposal listed out some individual cuts. Among those were:
- $728,000 cut to Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders
- $4.8 million cut to Glenwood and Woodward intellectual disabilities resource centers
- $1.8 million cut to Independence and Cherokee Mental Health Institutions
- $883,000 cut to Eldora Training School, a rehabilitation program for boys
- $969,000 cut to the Adoption Subsidy Program
- $3 million cut to Mental Health Regional Grants
It’s likely that many of those original recommendations will be enacted once the budget gets into the hands of Branstad’s department directors.
Several retired DHS employees spoke out yesterday in opposition to the de-appropriations bill. They warned that it could drastically increase the caseload for DHS workers assigned to at-risk children.
“I’m opposed to these permanent human services budget cuts. They will put children and adults who need our help in danger,” said Bill Dickey, a retired DHS investigator. “I looked into some very, very sad and tragic cases. Sometimes I saw situations where things could have gone differently. A little more time could have made the outcome easier on the child or senior I was assisting. The toughest cases are complex and difficult and the solutions are never easy. If you’ve got 30 or 35 or even 40 cases, that’s just asking for trouble.”
The starvation death of a West Des Moines teenage girl, Natalie Finn, has drawn considerable news coverage in Central Iowa the past few months, along with the role DHS played in the matter. While details over how two now-fired DHS employees played in the matter aren’t fully known, one problem seems to be that too many workers were out of the office and no one was covering several important cases. Though regardless of what comes out of that case, it’s unlikely that a massive budget cut for DHS will make children like Finn any safer.
Meanwhile, Republicans have no plans to open up the state’s Rainy Day Fund to cover any state expenses. By law, Iowa can only spend 99% of what the state collects in taxes, so over the years legislators have diverted some money to a Rainy Day Fund to cover potential problems when funding dips or emergencies happen. Despite the fund being full this year, at a level seven times the current budget shortfall, Republicans aren’t considering using any of it to make cuts less severe.
At a legislative listening session this weekend in Johnston, State Representative Jake Highfill was repeatedly asked what the Rainy Day Fund was for, if not situations like this. He didn’t answer.
The de-appropriations proposal largely appears to be a done deal and Republicans are expected to move quickly on its passage. Senate and House Republicans collaborated with the Governor’s office over the past two weeks to come to an agreement. The discussions have delayed much of the proceedings at the Statehouse, as nearly all other major proposals had to wait for the budget to get decided.
by Pat Rynard