Area lawmakers say budget cuts are first priority
Hog confinement rules not expected to be considered in ’18 session
Iowa lawmakers have to cut at least $37 million from this year’s budget before they do much of anything else in the 2018 legislative session, a group of state senators and representatives told a Fort Dodge audience Saturday morning.
And when they do get into more policy issues, the rules governing hog confinements will not be on their agenda, the legislators said during an Eggs and Issues forum.
“You can probably be assured that there will be no movement on this issue, this topic, this year,” said state Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge.
Miller was joined at the forum by state senators Jerry Behn, R-Boone, and Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, along with state representatives Rob Bacon, R-Slater, and Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City.
About 100 people attended the forum at Iowa Central Community College. Eggs and Issues is sponsored by the college and the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.
The governor and the Legislature are required to base their budgets on the projections of a state panel called the Revenue Estimating Conference. In its latest report, the conference indicated that revenues for the current fiscal year will be $37 million less than what it previously projected.
Kraayenbrink said the conference “overestimated” the state’s revenue in that previous report. He said the conference’s projections have been wrong in its last six reports.
Bacon wasn’t as harsh in his assessment of the conference.
“My opinion is they didn’t overestimate revenue,” he said. “Revenue just didn’t come in.”
The Legislature is now faced with chopping at least $37 million out of the budget before the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Kraayenbrink said Gov. Kim Reynolds is “pretty firm on not cutting anything from K through 12 schools or Medicaid.” He added that those two items account for about 80 percent of the state’s $7.2 billion budget.
Senate Republicans have introduced a bill that calls for cutting about $50 million out of the budget.
Both Behn and Kraayenbrink said cutting more than what’s needed right now will prevent the need for even more budget cuts if revenue falls short again.
“Do it now rather than wait till later,” Behn said.
Kraayenbrink said the Senate Republicans’ $50 million proposed budget cut surprised other lawmakers.
“I think those numbers are pretty high for what the House is thinking,” Sexton said.
Webster County and the surrounding counties are seeing a spike in the number of proposed hog confinements as Prestage Foods of Iowa builds a new pork processing plant near Eagle Grove.
The master matrix is the formula used by the state Department of Natural Resources to determine if a hog confinement should be built. Kraayenbrink and Miller agreed that no one should expect any changes to it this year.
“There’s no chance this year that the matrix is going to be opened,” Kraayenbrink said.
Bacon said he would like to readdress the matrix. He said he would at least like to increase the required distance between hog confinements and state parks that have lakes.
He added that imposing a moratorium on hog confinements would essentially backfire on opponents of confined animal feeding operations. He said after a moratorium was announced, there would be a rush of applications and even more confinements would be built.
Sexton questioned why anyone would want to put more regulations on a key element of the state’s agricultural economy when it is currently in a slump.
“Folks, whether we want to admit it or not, agriculture is what drives this state,” he said. “That’s where we get our revenue, and right now agriculture is in the slumps. Grain prices are terrible and the state budget reflects that. And when we have an industry that contributes billions of dollars to our economy why, why, would we want to shut that down?”
In an unrelated matter, the lawmakers were asked about a bill that would make Iowa Supreme Court justices part time. All the legislators said that measure will not pass.
“I’m an undertaker,” said Bacon, who is a funeral director. “This thing is six feet under already.”