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BATTLE OVER THE BUDGET

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You knew this session was going to be tough.  Early reports showed the state is not collecting as much in taxes as it had expected.  The state is still bringing in more money, but just not as much as it hoped.  Much of that has to do with the state's farm economy.  Prices are down, and the bird flu made matters worse.  So we knew there would be a battle over how much to spend.  But now we are faced with a new battle - a battle over how much money we have to spend.

Iowa can only spend 99% of what it takes in every year.  That's how we save for a rainy day (think natural disasters or economic recession).  A group of economists (called the Revenue Estimating Conference) meet four times a year to tell our state leaders what they think we'll have to spend.  By law, we have to base our state budget on those estimates.

The Governor has proposed spending $7.4 billion next year.  The problem is, the Revenue Estimating Conference says we only have $7.3 million available.  The Governor balances his budget by shifting money around, and using $143 million in ending fund balances.  That is, money left over at the end of this current fiscal year (which ends June 30, 2016).  Senate Democrats will say that this is a result of underfunding programs and not fully spending the 99% allowed, causing shortfalls in priority programs. House Republicans will say it is irresponsible to spend "one time funds" for ongoing services, and say that any money left over at the end of the year should be returned to taxpayers.

We wanted you to know that, depending on who you are talking to, you might hear different numbers when talking budgets.  One person may say the state has $280 million more to spend, while another says they have only $150 million.  We want you to know why that is happening - and give our promise that the numbers we use will come from the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency.  This agency works for both parties and both chambers, is held to a high standard and works hard to stay on that middle path.   So you can feel confident that the numbers we use represent the facts, not affected by partisan politics.  We'll let you draw your own conclusions as to whether what is proposed is good, bad, or simply inconsequential.

You can see all of the Legislative Services Agency budget documents here.