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Budget dominates closing days of session

Fort Dodge lawmakers summarize activity

The Iowa Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives are both controlled by Republicans, but they still have to negotiate some agreements with each other.

That kind of dealmaking is what is going on now in the closing days of the 2021 legislative session, according to two Fort Dodge lawmakers.

For those not directly involved in the talks, there is ”kind of a lot of sitting around and waiting,” state Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, said Friday.

State Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, said some talks were going on Friday even as he and Meyer were participating in an Eggs and Issues forum at Iowa Central Community College.

The 2021 legislative session was scheduled to be 110 working days. Friday was the 110th day. The legislature did not adjourn Friday because the state budget for 2021-2022 is not complete.

Kraayenbrink and Meyer both said they expected lawmakers will work through this coming week before adjourning.

The state budget will total about $8 billion.

Kraayenbrink said the budget is divided up into eight different bills. He said two of them have been passed by the legislature and sent to Gov .Kim Reynolds. Those spending bills covered administration and regulation and transportation.

Meyer highlighted some increases in spending to help the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Among those increases is $10.3 million more for children’s mental health.

She said funding for home-based rehabilitation services would increase by $20.5 million under a House bill. The state, she said, would provide $7.1 million of that increase, with the rest coming from the federal government.

Lawmakers are talking about taxes as well as spending.

”The Senate is pretty adamant about tax relief,” Kraayenbrink said.

He said the Senate has proposed eliminating the property tax levy of 39 cents per $1,000 of taxable value that counties impose to fund mental health programs, and in its place have the state government pay for those programs.

He said the Senate also wants to eliminate some conditions, often called triggers, included in a 2018 tax bill. Those triggers have to be met before any more income tax cuts can be made.

”I think most of us are on board with that also,” Meyer said of House Republicans.

She said she wants a consistent source of funding for mental health, and added that she has no problem with eliminating the property tax for it.

But Meyer added that she wants state oversight on how mental health money is spent.

”I want to make sure that at the state level we’re not just handing money over to the mental health regions without oversight and guard rails around that,” Meyer said.

She added that she is also concerned about money the state provides to counties and cities, often called the backfill. In 2013, the legislature and then Gov. Terry Branstad enacted a commercial property tax cut. Included in the measure was state money to backfill what the cities and counties would lose due to the tax cut. Some Republicans are now pushing to phase out the backfill.

”Not everyone is quite on board with that,” Meyer said.

Kraayenbrink, who was not in the Senate when the tax cut was approved, said the backfill was always intended to be temporary.

”We shouldn’t need the backfill anymore because we have grown,” he said.

Kraayenbrink said he has told local officials that they should not continue to count on the backfill.

Eggs and Issues, which has been conducted virtually for most of the 2021 legislative session, is sponsored by the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance and Iowa Central Community College.

Kraayenbrink and Meyer were the only lawmakers who participated in Friday’s forum.

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