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BUDGET NEWS

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No news is, well not really good news.  There has been no work publicly on the budgets for over a month now, and committee chairs say they are waiting to hear from the state's Revenue Estimating Conference to know if they will have good news (money is coming in as expected or better) or bad news (state revenues are slowing down and we have to lower budget targets).  That day is March 16, so do not expect to hear much about budgets until then.

One thing that we know will be a tough sell anyway is the $7 million needed to secure services in the regional Mental Health and Disability Services (MH/DS) system.  Over the last decade, the state has gone from making more than $200 million in investments in local services to $2 million last year and $0 in the budget recommendation for this year.  While MH/DS regions no longer have to pay for Medicaid services, they still do not have enough money to pay for the services they are currently expected to deliver. 

This year, the Polk County region is short $7 million to just maintain existing service levels. Next year, another handful of regions will experience similar problems, at least doubling the money needed to stabilize services.  The Iowa Association of Counties has come up with a solution that does not require one penny of state aid to move forward.

  • Allow each county in a MH/DS region to raise (from property taxes) up to $47.28 per person in that county. This is the current "per capita" amount regions are allowed to spend.

  • Up to 13 counties would be able to raise their taxes slightly to collect the money needed.  For example, in Polk County, raising property taxes to get up to the $47.28 level would mean that a person that owns a $100,000 home would pay just $17 more in taxes each year. The increase in taxes under this is expected to collect about $15 million statewide.

  • The 86 remaining counties would cut taxes or keep budgets level, resulting in at least (and very likely more) $22 million in property tax cuts statewide.

  • So the effect of this change is a reduction in property taxes statewide by at least $7 million (and very likely more).

  • No state funds (also tax dollars) would be needed.

  • The Department of Human Services would still be required to approve county budgets and service plans.

  • County supervisors, who are elected, would still have to answer to voters when deciding whether or not to raise property taxes.

You will hear more about this plan in the coming weeks.  Sen. Mark Segebart, a former Crawford County supervisor, knows the MH/DS system well and has introduced a bill to do just that.  Senate File 2236 was assigned to the Senate Ways and Means Committee (so it's safe from deadlines), and must first pass out of subcommittee.  Members of the subcommittee are Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, Sen. Janet Petersen of Des Moines, and Sen. Jason Schultz of Schleswig.  More to come on this topic!