Legislative Update 04/09/2015

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Quote of the Week

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.  Proverbs 1 verse 7

Legislative Update


I appreciate the overwhelming support and sentiments these past few months in my first legislative term.  It means a lot to me, my wife and family that you care about what and how we are doing in Des Moines.

In the House this week we moved from policy (with very few bills coming to debate on the House floor) to budget.  We will need to make significant reductions in many areas of the budget this year and I want to prepare you in advance for those cutbacks.  Revenues are certainly not as robust as they have been the last few years and indicate how funds are not comparable to what they were just a few years ago. 

I have been criticized recently a great deal for not “caring for our kids” in reference to the school budget.  The House Republicans settled on our highest and best offer in early February and extended a responsible dollar amount for school funding.  This situation has been politicized and I inform you that the Senate decided Wednesday we simply are not going to meet. 

Yesterday our schools were required to certify their budgets and it is a difficult task without knowing the amount of State Supplemental Aid they are actually going to receive.  However, I know that many schools certified at or below the 1.25 percent approved by the Iowa House to be sure.  I find it ironic that I am told that I don’t care about our kids’ education, yet I was part of the party which gave as much as we could right up-front, as soon as we could and with the understanding that our economy could decline even more (which it did). 

Moreover, in recent weeks I have witnessed our children being paraded throughout the Capitol, outfitted in “I’m Worth Less” t-shirts, carrying controversial signs and being used as props.  I have seen “WANTED” posters directed toward fellow Republican House members being posted in conspicuous places.  It has been an incredible experience to see firsthand the politicizing of the education system.  I have received emails from teachers, administrators and other school stakeholders, all written from school-sponsored email systems, during school hours and likely from taxpayer-funded computers.  I am deeply saddened that much of this has stemmed from the education unions and teaching profession; those to whom we have entrusted our children’s education and learning.

Finally, I have completed work on House Resolution 31, in which I and sixteen other members of the House have co-authored, which recognizes the importance of soils to Iowa’s future prosperity and healthy environment.  This resolution signifies the essential role of Iowa’s soils in supporting a thriving Iowa economy, robust habitat and ensuring a sustainable and productive future for the people of this great state.


Representative John H. Wills

Legislative Priorities 


House Republicans are committed to these principles to produce a balanced and sustainable state budget:

  1. We will spend less than the state collects;
  2. We will not use one-time money to fund on-going needs;
  3. We will not balance the budget by intentionally underfunding programs; and
  4. We will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.
The House Republican position on government spending is reasonable, sustainable and based on simple common-sense budgeting principles.

Senate Democrat’s Budget Proposal 
Targets released by Senate Democrats this week spend 102.5% of on-going revenue.  Democrats spend more than state collects and use one-time money for on-going needs.  Why is that important?
For the 4 years Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office, they spent the following percentages of on-going revenue:
FY 2008 – 102.23%
FY 2009 – 105.52%
FY 2010 – 107.85%
FY 2011 – 111.82%
During the 2010 session (FY 11), Democrats authorized nearly $600 million in spending from the Cash Reserve ($267.4 million) and federal stimulus money ($323.9 million)
By the end of the 2010 session (FY 11), legislative Democrats authorized nearly 70 loopholes in the current 99% Expenditure Limitation law to allow their spending increases.  As they proved then, they only believe in the law when it is convenient for them. 
As Gov. Culver left office back in 2011, he had forced a $500 million property tax increase, borrowed over $800 million that costs double to pay back and left a $700 million spending gap for the new governor and legislature.  Spending more than the state collects has consequences.
In FY 2012, the legislature approved a budget that spent just 95% of on-going revenue.  In FY 2013, it was just 92% of on-going revenue.  In FY 2014, it was 99.9%.  Then last session the Legislature approved a budget that spent 99.9% of on-going revenue.  Then the economy worsened and revenue dropped meaning the state actually spent 103.3% of on-going revenue.  To pay for that overrun, the state’s ending balance was tapped.  The Senate Democrat’s budget proposal does the same thing this year.  Spends 102.5% of revenue and taps the ending balance to pay for the overrun.  This budgeting course is shortsighted and reminiscent of their haphazard budgeting practices of the past.  Instead of assuring certainty, all it guarantees is overspending.
Actual revenue data does not guide the budgeting decisions of Democrats.  During the 2013-14 legislative sessions, Democrats in the House sponsored amendments that increased spending by $1.5 billion.
The 2014 session is a good example why the 99% expenditure limitation law is flawed.  The law allowed the legislature to spend $7.631 billion.  Then the economy worsened and revenue dropped.  If the legislature had spent at the 99% expenditure limitation level, the ending balance would be negative $157.4 million.
State Revenue
Projected Ending Balance at the end of FY 2015 on June 30: $420 million
Current Cash Reserve: $522.2 million
Current Economic Emergency Fund: $174.1 million
FY 2015 Revenue Estimate: $6.767 billion                               
FY 2015 Actual Spending Amount: $6.994 billion                    
FY 2016 On-Going Revenue Estimate: $7.175 billion
FY 2016 New Revenue: $180.9 million (2.6%)
According the non-partisan LSA, actual state revenue growth is 2.6%, not 6%.  In actual dollars, growth is $180.9 million, not $408.1 million.  According to LSA the $408.1 million figure represents the growth between estimates not the growth between actual spending and the FY 2016 estimate.
According to the non-partisan LSA, actual state spending last year was $6.995 billion.  The new revenue estimate is $7.175 billion.  The difference is 2.6% or $180.9 million.  It is simple math.
Legislative Democrats insist there is 6% growth or $408.1 million.  They are ignoring actual state spending in doing so.  They take the latest estimate on final FY 15 revenue ($6.767 billion) and subtract it from the latest estimate on FY 16 revenue ($7.175 billion).  The difference is 6% or $408.1 million.  But those numbers are irrelevant as long as actual spending is higher than the estimate.
The state’s Cash Reserve Fund has $522.2 million.  It must equal 7.5% of that year’s budget to help cash flow the state during the year.  When the Legislature decided to reform the budget process in the early 1990’s, one of the key elements was ensuring that payments – especially school aid payments -  were made in a timely manner.  
In the 1980’s, the state did not have a cash reserve fund and payments to schools were not made on time.  Schools were forced to borrow money to make payroll as they waited for school aid payments from the state.  Schools were forced to incur additional costs because of the state’s lack of fiscal responsibility.  
The state does not have a $1 billion surplus.  Back in 2013 the state had an ending balance of roughly $900 million.  Since then that revenue has been used to pay off state debt and invest in key infrastructure projects in our Regents institutions and improving water quality.  The ending balance is estimated to be $420 million at the end of Fiscal Year 2015 on June 30.  If that money is spent, there is no automatic source for it to be replenished. 
School Funding
We’re not buying a used car.  Senate Democrats started off at 6% or $294 million, then moved to 4% or  $212 million and now to 2.625% or to $155 million.  This has been a cold calculated political calculation from the start for Senate Democrats.  They believe it is politically advantageous for them to cast Republicans as anti-education.  They are interested in political gain, not funding schools.
The first bill House Republicans approved in 2015 was school funding.  This could have been solved in February.  Schools are getting the first bite of the apple when it comes to state spending.  The problem is the apple, due to falling revenues, is not as big as many had hoped.  Other important responsibilities such as funding Medicaid, economic development and public safety still have to receive funding in addition to education.
The House position continues the legislature’s trend of providing significant increases to the state’s K-12 system, bringing the 5 year total increase to over $570 million, a nearly 22% increase.
According to the Department of Education’s Allocation Summary documents, Iowa will spend $10,231 per student in FY 15.  That means in classroom of 20, Iowa spends just over $200,000.
Property Tax Reform’s Impact on School Funding 
The latest narrative being built is that the commercial property tax reform bill approved in 2013 is strangling school districts by reducing the amount of property tax revenue they receive.  This argument is not supported by facts.  According to the non-partisan LSA, the 2013 bill did several things:
Created a business property tax credit.  This has no impact on school finance.
  • Rolled industrial, commercial, and railroad property down to 95% and then to 90% of assessed value.  This is 100% reimbursed by the state for the first few years of the bill’s implementation so it also has not had any impact on school finance.
  • Reduced the allowed growth in residential and agricultural property taxed value from a maximum of 4% a year to 3% a year.  This does reduce the amount a dollar of school tax rate can generate.  However, the school aid formula then dictates a higher tax rate, so for the parts of school budgets determined by the formula, school budgets are not impacted.  But they do see reductions on the parts of their rate NOT controlled by the formula.  But they have the ability to set a higher rate unless the rate is somehow limited.
  • Decreased telephone utility property taxed value.  This has a similar type of impact as the point directly above and the result is the same.  A higher tax rate can be set.
  • Created a new multi-residential property class.  This has not yet taken effect so this item has not impacted school finance.
Income Tax Cut
FY 16 is obviously a tough budget year and Republicans are under no illusions that the income tax cut bill will make it to the Governor’s Desk.  That should not stop legislators from discussing Iowa’s income taxes which have one of the highest top rates in the country.  Income taxes have not been reduced since 1998.  17 years ago!  It is a fact that after a brief dip in state revenues, they increased immediately. 
Government spending advocates will always fight against a reduction in income tax rates.  They will always obfuscate the facts to confuse Iowans and protect their government funding.
Every significant change in Iowa tax policy has taken years to achieve.  The property tax discussion spanned over a decade.  The fuel tax debate lasted nearly as long.  Republicans expect the fight to lower income taxes to take time as well and do not expect this bill will be approved this session.  However, if Republicans do not force discussion on tax reductions, no one will.
The bill gives Iowans an option to file their taxes under the present 9 tier system or file under a flat rate system with a 5% rate.  If the taxpayer chooses that flat rate, they give up all credits and deductions, with the exception of the standard deduction (which is increased over three times).  This helps lower and middle income filers.  Additionally, the bill exempts pension income from the state’s income tax.  This helps retirees.  Nobody sees a tax increase under this bill and there are people in each income level that see a decrease.


Rebasing Medicaid Payments
Iowa’s Medicaid is funded from both the Federal Government and the State, which pays up to 50%, currently around $20 to $25 million a month.  Of the beds in our nursing facilities, 52% are occupied by those on Medicaid.  Occasionally the reimbursement rate paid to the hospital has to be recalculated based on utilization and inflation
The Chairman of the House Human Services budget, Rep Dave Heaton, said the necessary appropriation to fully fund hospital rebasing requires about $8.2 million.  He also said that with the demand for new funding in all areas extremely high and the Governor’s proposed budget $154 million more than the expected State revenue, there are some very difficult decisions ahead.  Having talked to Rep Heaton, he is fully aware of the need for additional funding for our local hospitals.  With funding education our highest priority, we will have to wait and see how our remaining budget gets allocated. 


News from Around the District


Funeral services were held Friday, April 10, at Calvary United Methodist Church for Josephine Gruhn, a former Spirit Lake teacher who went on to serve four terms in the Iowa House of Representatives.
She passed away Saturday, April 4, at Lakes Regional Healthcare and is survived by three children, their spouses and families. They remember her as a devoted wife, mother and grandmother.
The Ruthven High School and Morningside College graduate spent more than 25 years as a teacher in the Spirit Lake school system.
She lost her husband, Don, in 1980 and was elected, as a Democrat, to the first of four terms as state representative in 1982.
Former state Rep. Mike May credited Gruhn for being able to serve the conservative-leaning Dickinson and Emmet counties over the span of eight years.
"That's pretty remarkable when you think about it," May said. "I think people respected her and I think she was a very hard-working lady. Philosophically, we certainly differed on a lot of issues, but I had a great deal of admiration for her."
District 3 supervisor David Gottsche campaigned with Gruhn and said her appearances were always well-received. Constituents didn't always agree with her votes on an issue, but they always left a conversation with an understanding of Gruhn's point of view.
"She was just an all-around good representative," he said. "She knew a lot of people and she talked to a lot of people. She was a well-rounded person."
Family, children and grandchildren were always important to Gruhn, who lived on her Sandbar Beach farm for more than 62 years. She enjoyed the farm home, yard work and nature. May said Gruhn worked especially hard during her time in Des Moines.
"Josephine was one of those people who took work home at night and read the whole bill," he said. "She worked really hard at trying to understand what was happening and to be a part of that discussion on the floor, so I admired her for that. She was extremely hard-working."
May also said Gruhn was concerned about the safety and needs of battered women. She was a board member for CAASA, the Centers Against Abuse and Sexual Assault.
She was a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, United Methodist Women and Retired Educators Association as well.
The Pearson Lakes Art Center and Lakes Regional Hospital were among many organizations to benefit from more than 8,000 service hours. She served many years as a Spirit Lake Township Trustee.
"The things she participated in within the community weren't just a part of the legislative function," May said. "She had a real heart for different issues within the community. I would see her once in awhile -- at a meeting I was attending when I was a legislator. She still had 'REP JO' on her license plate. She said 'Mike, I'm sure you don't like that.'"
"Jo," May replied, "I think you've earned it.'"
-Dickinson County News

Environmental Protection & Natural Resources


Highly pathogenic avian flu has been confirmed for the first time in an Iowa commercial turkey flock, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship reported Tuesday.
This form of the virus is “is an extremely infectious and fatal form of the disease that, once established, can spread rapidly from flock to flock and has also been known to affect humans,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service — the agency that confirmed the H5N2 bird flu in a flock of 27,000 turkeys in northwest Iowa’s Buena Vista County.
State officials quarantined the premises, and birds on the property will be killed and disposed of to prevent the spread of the disease, the Iowa Agriculture Department said.
Birds from the flock will not enter the food system.
No human infections have yet been detected, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people to be low.
Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation, said the effect of the disease on the price of turkeys “is yet to be determined.”
The impact so far is less than 1 percent of the state’s annual production of 11 million turkeys, she said.
Among the 50 states, Iowa ranks ninth in turkey production and fifth in turkey processing, according to Irwin.
“The assumption is that the disease is being spread from wild birds — primarily ducks and geese — rather than from domestic flock to domestic flock,” Irwin said.
Though wild birds do not often commingle with domestic turkeys, their feces can be carried in on shoes, boots and equipment, she said.
Turkey producers will step up their biosecurity protocols in an effort to keep the disease from entering their facilities, she said.
Although wild birds can carry the disease, they do not typically get sick and die, she said.
Chickens are also susceptible to the disease, but only one of about 35 recent confirmed infections have involved chickens, according to state Agriculture Department spokesman Dustin Vande Hoef.
All the others have affected turkeys, primarily in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North and South Dakota, he said.
After the infected Buena Vista County flock experienced increased mortality, samples were submitted to the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, whose tests confirmed the diagnosis.
APHIS is working closely with the Iowa Agriculture Department on a joint response, which includes the following basic steps: restricting movement of poultry and poultry-moving equipment into and out of the control area; eradicating affected flocks; testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area; disinfecting affected flock locations to kill the virus; and testing to confirm that poultry farms in the area are free of the virus.
USDA also is working with its partners to observe and test for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets, and in migratory wild bird populations.
-The Gazette, Cedar Rapids


Iowa Governor Branstad showed his support for the future of hunting by signing into law Senate File 392 after the bill passed unanimously out of the House and Senate.  This was House File 577 which I managed through the House floor and am very proud to see this signed, sealed and delivered!
This law creates an apprentice hunting license for prospective hunters 16 years of age or older and allows them to try hunting under the trusted supervision of a licensed and experienced mentor before completing a hunter education course.  Lengthy hunter education requirements often discourage potential hunters from going afield because they are unwilling to dedicate the necessary time to complete the course in order to pursue an activity that they are simply trying out.  Eventually, the goal is for these apprentices to complete a hunter education course so they can hunt on their own, which has largely been the case in the states with similar programs. 
Iowa is the 36th state to adopt this impactful recruiting program known as Families Afield.  Families Afield is an effort led by national sportsmen’s groups to expand hunting opportunities for newcomers and to protect the future of hunting.  Since 2006, 35 states have sold more than 1.4 million apprentice hunting licenses and have proven the value and safety of mentoring newcomers in the field.
This pro-hunting law will strengthen Iowa’s rich hunting heritage by providing more opportunities to recruit new hunters and pass on America’s hunting traditions.


Tour of Our District



This 282 acre area provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities for the public’s enjoyment. The 72 acre lake, which is surrounded by restored habitats, has excellent angling opportunities for large-mouth bass, blue-gill, and channel catfish fishermen. A concrete boat ramp provides an easy and quick access.  Only electric trolling motors, oars, and paddles are permitted on this beautiful lake due to its size. There are paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks available to rent if needed. Along with fishing, there is a designated swimming area that can be utilized during park hours, although lifeguards are not provided. The beach area  has both basketball and volleyball courts near by. The area offers a total of 71 camp sites including 8 modern electrical/water and 63 modern electrical.  
For group gatherings, the park has 2 enclosed shelter houses along with 6 open shelters, as well as a scout area for any scout groups use. Throughout the park you will find 3 playgrounds, numerous picnic tables, pedestal grills, picnic shelters, 3 sand volleyball courts, a basketball court, a 9 hole disc golf course, 4 modern restrooms, and 3 vault toilets.
There are 6 modern rental cabins available year round overlooking the lake, along a 3.5 mile long concrete bike trail that encircles the lake and a variety of natural habitats including shoreline, prairie, native trees and shrubs, and a food plot.
Public Hunting is allowed in season on a portion of the area. Loaded weapons are only allowed on these designated areas.   
Reservations and availability for Cabins and Shelters can only be made by contacting the Lyon County Conservation Administration Center at 712-472-2217 


State of Iowa Fun Fact


Born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, John Wayne was the son of a pharmacist and grew up to become one of Hollywood's most popular movie stars.
When he was a boy, his family moved West settling in Lancaster, California and later Glendale, California where he would come to be known as Duke.  Marion’s dog, an Airedale, was named Duke, and soon the local Glendale firefighters started calling Marion Duke, too.  Duke’s academic and athletic success at Glendale High led to a football scholarship at the University of Southern California (USC).
A body surfing accident at Newport Beach cut short his promising athletic career, so the former tackle looked to studio work to help pay his tuition. In a film called The Big Trail, Marion Morrison became John Wayne, and the movie business – and the country – would never be the same.
John Wayne’s monumental film career spanned five decades.  He appeared in more than 175 films, more than a dozen directed by John Ford alone.  For an entire generation, he was Hollywood’s biggest and most durable box-office star. Incredibly versatile, Wayne starred in just about every genre Hollywood offered: war movies, romantic comedies, police dramas, histories. But it was the Western – the American cinema – where Wayne made his most lasting mark. He was nominated three times for the Academy Award, winning the Oscar for Best Actor in 1969 for True Grit. And his powerful performance in The Searchers has been singled out by filmmakers and actors alike as the greatest performance by an actor on film, ever.

Tour of The Iowa State Capitol



The great mural painting Westward, by Edwin H. Blashfield, a New York artist, is located between the first and second floors at the east side of the Capitol. The mural painting, depicting the migration of early pioneers traveling through Iowa, extends the full width of the wall over the Grand Staircase. This work of art measures 14 feet high and 40 feet wide. The mural, painted in 1905 at a total cost of $10,000, was painted on six pieces of canvass and placed into the frame.

In describing his mural painting, Blashfield wrote:
"The main idea of the picture is symbolical presentation of the Pioneers led by the spirits of Civilization and Enlightenment to the conquest by cultivation of the Great West. Considered pictorially, the canvass shows a 'Prairie Schooner' drawn by oxen across the prairie. The family ride upon the wagon or walk at its side. Behind them, and seen through the growth of stalks at the right, come crowding the other pioneers and 'later men.' In the air and before the wagon, are floating four female figures; one holds the shield with the arms of the state of Iowa upon it; one holds a book symbolizing Enlightenment; two others carry a basket and scatter the seeds which are symbolical of the change from wilderness to ploughed fields and gardens that shall come over the prairie. Behind the wagon, and also floating in the air, two female figures hold, respectively, a model of a stationary steam engine and of an electric dynamo to suggest the forces which come with the 'later men.'"

Map of the Week

The map of the week is of the Change in Average Farmland Value Per Acre by County, 2013 -- 2014 document published location:
The map can be found here

Quick Links

State Representative, John H. Wills
Governor, Terry Branstad
Iowa Legislature
Iowa Judical Branch
Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey
Secretary of State, Paul Pate
State Auditor, Mary Mosiman
State Auditor, Mary Mosiman
State Senator, David Johnson
State Treasurer
U. S. Congressman, Steve King
Senator Chuck Grassley
Senator Joni Ernst


Around the Capitol


The House resumed session on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 4:04pm, Wills of Dickinson in the Speaker's chair. 



DATE:  April 30, 2015
TIME:  Noon to 1:30pm
WHERE:  Capitol Rotunda

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