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It's hard to believe that the legislative session will begin in less than a month.  Legislators will return to Des Moines for their 100-day legislative session on Monday, January 8, 2018.  If this were a weather forecast, we'd tell you storms are ahead. Iowa's 150 legislators will have no shortage of challenges this year, and chief among them will be balancing the budget.  

The state is short about $90 million for this current fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2017.  New revenue estimates released on December 11 show a budget that is spending more money than collected.  Legislators will need to act quickly in January to cut current-year budgets by $90 million, and prepare a new budget for the next fiscal year that is equally bare-bones.  The only other alternative is to find new revenues (that is, raise taxes).

These new revenue estimates are important, because the Governor bases her fiscal year 2019 (FY19) budget on them.  Governor Reynolds will have to make tough decisions on spending in her first budget, which she will present to the Legislature on the second day of session (Tuesday, January 9, 2018).  

In addition to this stormy budget season, lawmakers will also face other big issues in 2018, including:

  • Tax Reform:  There is discussion about the elimination of the state's income tax, more property tax cuts, and a plan to increase the state's sales tax by a penny, using the first 3/8 (about $170 million) for water quality and the remaining funds for mental health and disability services (removing the MH/DS property tax and replacing it with state funds), education, and other tax reforms.  
  • Water Quality: Legislators came close to passing a plan to clean up Iowa's waterways, but were unable to get it across the finish line. There is a bill held over from last year that is only one vote away from passage, so it is very possible that this could be done early in session.
  • Bottle Bill: Grocery stores are leading a charge to get rid of the state's landmark 5-cent bottle deposit law, aka "the bottle bill."  This is very controversial, but its not a partisan issue.  There are Republicans and Democrats that want to keep Iowa's bottle deposit law, and an equal number that want to make a change.  Many local organizations use bottle deposits to raise money, and some redemption centers work with local disability service organizations to create jobs in their community.  It'll be an interesting showdown.
  • Mental Health & Opioids:  Law enforcement is driving a lot of the discussion on both of these topics, because of the huge increase in overdose deaths hitting our state, and the lack of services that is forcing sheriffs and police officers to drive individuals experiencing a mental health crisis all over the state looking for help.  In addition, two lobbyists lost family members in the past year to opioid addiction, and have told their personal stories to the legislators they see daily.   Several work groups and committees have worked on this over the interim, and will have recommendations. Lawmakers are serious about doing something - but without additional money, it may be tough. Our first issue of 2018 will review the recommendations in these reports (they are being finalized now). 

There are a lot of other issues that lawmakers will try to tackle - Medicaid managed care, tobacco tax increase, public retirement (IPERS) changes, and education funding.  As always, expect the unexpected when lawmakers return in January.  

If you have an issue, now is the time to get it on your legislators' radar.  Call, email, or write your legislators and ask them to help!