Last week, Governor Kim Reynolds had a message for Iowans: ignore what’s in the news. Forget the $100 million in recent forced budget cuts, the $131 million borrowed from the rainy day fund, the additional $50 million she authorized to take from reserves and the forecast that another $55 million in emergency mid-year cuts may need to be made.
And especially forget the nearly $600 million in corporate tax credits and corporate property tax cuts that blew that gaping hole in the state budget in the first place.
All is well, she said, nothing to see here.
Around the same time as her press conference, I was holding the first of three roundtables with Iowans who are seeing firsthand the devastation being caused by these drastic cuts. The pain was written clearly on the faces of Iowa school teachers, public safety workers and healthcare professionals. They’re seeing the vital services they provide being shortchanged and the people they seek to serve being left behind. [one concrete example]
Clearly, all is not well.
At it’s simplest, a budget is a moral document, a blueprint for building a successful state and a statement about our values as Iowans.
Right now, we are hemorrhaging taxpayer dollars in giveaways to corporate interests, many based outside of Iowa. Yet our investments in Iowa’s K-12 public education system, once a universal source of pride among Iowans, have lagged behind inflation for seven years running. This year we cut funding to public universities and community colleges. Our public safety officers are forced to do more with less and often a mere four state troopers are on duty across our state each night. Despite the horrific news about the deaths of two abused girls in central Iowa this spring, Department of Human Services funding was cut. Medicaid recipients – the elderly, handicapped, mentally ill and working poor – are seeing their care jeopardized over a botched Medicaid privatization that’s failed to deliver on promised savings.
And even after Iowa voters overwhelmingly said yes to cleaning up our polluted waterways, Reynolds and the Republicans in the legislature refused to address our poor water quality. They did however give $100 million to a foreign-owned fertilizer plant on Iowa soil. Think about that.
That might be a statement about values, but those aren’t my values, and they’re not Iowa values.
Make no mistake, we all agree jobs are the priority. A thriving economy lifts all boats and that’s our goal. But I couldn’t disagree more with the Reynolds plan.
I believe our path to prosperity for Iowa workers at all levels is a robust education system, pre-K through post-secondary, that produces educated and skilled workers. We must have strong public safety and social programs that keep our communities safe and investments in programs to clean up our natural resources that will also result in job creation. Let’s respect our agricultural heritage and work to find new markets for ag products. Let’s double-down on our flourishing clean energy industry. And yes, let’s use smart and targeted incentives to help Iowa businesses expand and lure new business into our state.
Because after all, we can’t expect Iowa businesses to grow and new businesses to move here – along with the high wages they provide – if we lack an educated workforce, our social services are in shambles, communities are at risk because of underfunded public safety and we lack clean natural resources or ample recreational opportunities.
We also can’t expect to grow if our state budget is a wreck and the leaders charged with managing it, especially Governor Reynolds, either can’t or won’t admit it. We’re likely going to need a special session to address deepening problems and it will be a telling time for the future of our state. The Governor can either heed the wake up call and start working with all parties to fix our problems, or she can cement her legacy as someone more worried about ideology or politics.
While all is not well, I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of our state. But we deserve a state government to match that promise, not hold our state back. I look forward to vigorous debate this fall over the budget issues and throughout the upcoming campaign as we discuss the long-term future of our state.