Iowa House Democrats say they’re concerned with little communication between House and Senate Republicans, a lack of public input and early adjournment in the chambers during the weeks leading up to Iowa’s $8 billion budget allocation.
On Tuesday during an Iowa House Democrats Facebook Live event, House Democratic Leader Rep. Todd Prichard and Sioux City Rep. Chris Hall, the lead Democrat on the state budget committee, sounded the alarm on Iowa Republicans’ unusual negotiations ahead of key budget decisions.
The Democratic leaders said they’ve heard their Republican counterparts aren’t conversing as usual on the budget, while some of its largest parts like the Health and Human Services allocation has not yet been introduced.
“The Senate actually packed up today. They’re done for the week,” said Prichard during the event on Tuesday.
“It’s really kind of odd that they worked basically a day and are done for the week at this time in session when usually there’s kind of a hustle to hammer out the budget and get things going.”
Hall noted the gravity of the work ahead.
“The health and human services budget has not been introduced in the House or the Senate yet, and the communication that we’re hearing is that House and Senate budget leaders aren’t really talking to each other all that well. That’s going to create a problem here as we’re trying to adjourn in the next few weeks because the Health and Human Services budget is actually the state’s biggest budget.”
The Iowa Senate and House have also not scheduled joint budget hearings this year, a standard meeting in past legislative sessions. This leaves out the chance for Iowans to provide input, Hall said, but transparency also suffers.
“It’s a challenge when leaders aren’t talking to one another and when they’re not negotiating transparently in a way that the public can hear, because it leaves room in the last few days of session to cut some really unfortunate backroom deals, and unfortunately what we’re seeing right now with republican leaders with the house and the senate not talking to one another,” Hall said.
“The real fear is that they’re not trying to moderate one another either. They’re not trying to find a common ground that is somewhere in the middle, they’re potentially outmaneuvering each other on pet projects or trying to get something that is important to one side but is already rejected by the other. It’s a bad formula for public policy.”
During the House Democrats event, Hall also outlined the state of Iowa’s economy ahead of the budget decisions.
The House Appropriations Committee in early March met with budget panelists and experts who monitor Iowa’s economy. The panelists gave a mostly favorable review, Hall said, with the state being well-positioned during the pandemic because of federal CARES act and the American Rescue Plan dollars.
“Without those programs, we almost certainly would have seen a significant recession and a collapse of the state’s budget,” Hall said.
Iowa’s economy, largely based on finance and insurance, manufacturing and agriculture industries, has been able to stay afloat during the pandemic better than some other states.
“We are fortunate that Iowa’s economy has been really resilient,” said Hall. “[Industries] have been a little bit more resilient to the pandemic and less susceptible to major hits, as we’ve seen in service industries and other industries in big cities.”
With the economy in good shape, Hall said he’s concerned about Iowa Republicans’ priorities as they begin funneling the money around the state through budget allocations.
“A quote that President Biden has fondly been attributed, and that is, don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget. And that’s really where the rubber meets the road,” said Hall.
“From the view of House Democrats, a lot of our priorities have not kept up with the times, they’ve faltered over a period of many years, and they don’t necessarily reflect the majority priorities of Iowans.”
Hall noted that over the recent years of Republican government control, corporate tax credits have grown by $200 million, and are given to some companies that aren’t paying income taxes in the state. Tax cuts have increased significantly for wealthy corporations and individuals as well.
“Last year alone, in the year 2020, $280 million went out the door in tax cuts for corporations and the top wealthiest individuals in the state. When I say the top, I’m talking about the top 5% of income earners,” said Hall.
A few years ago, the Legislature did assemble an interim committee to look at changing tax credits in the state, but their recommendations were never implemented.
“I remember that hearing, I think that hearing lasted less than an hour. It was really just kind of a ‘yeah, we looked at it,’ but nothing came of it. It was really kind of a disappointing reaction to an issue that needs to be understood and it needs to be managed,” added Prichard.
by Isabella Murray
Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.