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Lawmakers Discuss State Budget

April 14, 2011
by Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

A variety of topics were addressed in Saturday's Legislative Town Meeting at the Emmetsburg Welcome Center. State Senator Jack Kibbie and State Representative John Wittneben updated constituents on the status of several issues in the state legislature as it works towards its scheduled adjournment at the end of the month.

In the course of the meeting, Kibbie also made official that he will not seek re-election to the Senate when his term expires in 2012. "There will be a statement issued this week, but I'm here to tell you that I'm not going to run in 2012," the Senate President stated. "Remember, you heard it here first."

In his review of Legislative action, Kibbie noted that the budget is still a contentious issue, with Governor Branstad wanting a two-year budget, while the Senate is opposed to the idea. "The Legislature feels that a two-year budget gives too much power to the executive branch. We went to an annual budget back in the 1970's and it seems to have worked OK since then."

Along with the budget, school financing is still up in the air, but Kibbie noted that for all intensive purposes, school districts should plan for no allowable growth for the upcoming budget year.

"The House and the Governor both want zero percent allowable growth, but the Senate wanted two percent," Kibbie explained. "The way it looks, we're looking at zero percent for 2012 and 2013."

According to Kibbie, one-percent allowable growth would amount to $32 million statewide. Using that as a guide, Kibbie noted that every school district with zero allowable growth might have to raise their tax asking by anywhere from 80 cents to $1,00 to cover the lack of state funds.

When asked about the future of preschool funding, Kibbie noted that the Senate has the upper hand in the debate on preschool funding. "We rolled the funding for preschools into the school bill last year, but right now, preschool funding is in the Standings bill, which will be decided as one of the last items of the session."

On the topic of reapportionment, Kibbie displayed a map prepared by the Legislative Services Bureau of a proposed re-districting plan for 2012, and commented, "Palo Alto County got shortchanged badly." The new district for the state senate would be comprised of Palo Alto, Clay, Dickinson, Osceola and Lyon Counties. "My gut feeling is that this plan, plan one, will pass and be adopted," Kibbie said.

Representative Wittneben echoed Kibbie's thoughts on the re-districting, noting that he would lose Palo Alto County in the plan, and pick up counties to the east. "From what I'm hearing, that map, plan one, is looking good down in Des Moines. I'd say it helps and hurts everyone about the same."

Wittneben pointed out that the Governor had recently signed legislation on impaired boating that put the offense on equal footing with that of automobiles. "I was a co-sponsor of this bill, which drops the legal limit for impaired operation of a boat to .08 percent blood alcohol count, just like a car, and the measure passed the house with 95 of 100 votes in favor."

The issue of nuclear power was raised because of talk of legislation that would allow utility companies to increase customer bills to cover savings for the possible construction of a new nuclear power plant in the state.

"I'm pro-nuclear power," Wittneben said. "But I'm not sure about that bill. As far as nuclear power, I'm not as worried about the safety aspect as I am about the cost."

Joel Horsley of Emmetsburg pointed out the biggest problem with nuclear power is the disposal of waste from the facilities, a fact that Wittenben agreed with.

"Most of the Senate Caucus feels that we should wait a year on this issue, because of the situation in Japan," Kibbie added. "But, all the rural electric cooperatives and utilities are wanting to buy into a new nuclear plant if one were to be built."

A delegation from St. Paul's Pre School in Emmetsburg was present, and asked the two lawmakers what the future of preschool funding would be, noting that they had set enrollment limits of 15 students, but last year, after having 15 students signed up, the state funding of preschool saw their enrollment drop to five students. The group noted that for next year, they are in limbo, not knowing what to do. Uncertainty in regards to the Legislature's stance on the funding issue is the main concern.

"There are a lot of non-profit groups that offer preschools," Kibbie noted. "Right now, I can't tell you what the outcome will be for preschools. It is in the Standings Bill, and that will be the last bill voted on in the session. I am committed for preschool the way it is now."

Wittneben reminded the group the state got involved in preschools because of a request from the Iowa Business Council. "They said the number one priority should be to get kids ready for school. If that were done, there would be less dropouts, more success in college and society,'' Wittneben said. "I guess I feel when something is for the benefit of Iowans, I wish we didn't have to pay for it, but we do."

Kibbie noted that the preschool issue, along with the budget, continues to be topics that the lawmakers will have to work hard and compromise on in order to arrive at solutions.

"If you're going to cut expenses and cut a budget by six to eight percent, that's fine, but then you also want to have more accountability of government, but less people to do it with. That's the triangle we're in right now," Kibbie commented.



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