Iowa Legislature to reconvene
The Iowa Legislature will reconvene on Wednesday, June 3. The biggest job will be passing a budget for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1. I believe that the Revenue Estimating Conference will meet before we reconvene. The REC meets periodically and makes estimates of incoming revenue. We use the estimates in putting together our budgets. We all recognize that it will be much more difficult than usual to estimate state revenue for fiscal 2021. Because of the uncertainty, I have recommended that we exercise caution in passing our new budget. I believe the current year’s budget should be a ceiling for next year. Even though we may end the current year with a surplus because of our responsible budgeting last year, we do not want to have a situation where we must make cuts next year because we do not have the money to cover our appropriations. Since we already passed a bill for K-12 funding early in the session that included an increase, even to create a status quo budget will require cuts in other areas of the budget.
Another big part of the budget is the state’s share of Medicaid payments. Compared with other areas of the budget, we have less discretion over the amounts spent for Medicaid. Though passing our budget is going to be very difficult under the present circumstances, it is much easier to add supplemental amounts to the budget next year if our numbers allow it, and we believe it is justified, that to make cuts if we over appropriate. I am currently working on the Justice Systems part of the budget. As you know I am the Senate chair for the section of the budget dealing with the prisons, courts and a number of other agencies dealing with public safety and justice. This part of the budget deals with about 10 percent of the total general fund.
Though the budget is our biggest job, we do have other issues that can be considered. There are several constitutional amendments that are pending and there are other bills that have passed one chamber and could be taken up in the other. It is also possible that a new bill dealing with the crisis could be brought up.
We will be taking steps to protect legislators, staff and the public when we reconvene. Social distancing in the building is recommended and face masks will be available to those who want one. Hand sanitizer stations will be set up, and while the building will be opened back up to the public, tour groups will be prohibited.
Re-opening Iowa economy continues
The governor signed a new proclamation to allow salons, barbershops, and massage and tattoo establishments to partially reopen throughout the whole state starting on Friday, May 15. Restaurants, fitness centers, libraries, campgrounds, and race tracks can also open in those counties that had previously been closed. Bars, movie theaters, museums, pools and casinos will remain closed. Mass gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited. Like previous proclamations, all of these establishments must take public health precautions and are reopened only at a lower capacity to accommodate social distancing practices.
After almost two months of both complete and partial shutdowns across the state, it is time to manage the impact of these closures as the battle against the virus continues. Iowa has a large and diverse economy driven not only by our livestock, agricultural, and manufacturing industries, but also small businesses, like local restaurants, barber shops, or retail stores. If the state were to continue prohibiting these places from opening, many more businesses may be forced to close forever.
Unemployment across the country and here in Iowa has skyrocketed, with hundreds of thousands in Iowa filing for unemployment in the last several weeks. Extending closures would drive more Iowans into poverty, making it difficult to afford food, a place to live, and pay bills that continue to show up, whether the state is closed or not. Besides those consequences, the impact to mental health and the emotional hardships people experience when facing all these difficulties cannot be ignored.
We must do our best to reopen the economy and adapt to the changes COVID-19 is forcing upon us in a responsible way. It is up to each one of us to be responsible for ourselves and our loved ones, without the government dictating every detail in life. We know this virus is very contagious, and certain populations are more vulnerable to it than others. We can responsibly reopen the Iowa economy if each of us takes it upon ourselves to follow the guidelines and do what we can to prevent the spread.
As always please feel free to contact me with your ideas or concerns.