A fresh layer of snow greeted those who ventured out to attend the first legislative coffee of the year on Saturday, February 8. State Senator David Johnson and Representative Megan Hess each made comments to the small group of citizens gathered.
The first topic Johnson addressed related to the proposed increase in state support for prekindergarten grade 12 schools in the 2016 fiscal year. Johnson said on February 5 the senate debated the measure that would increase the supplemental state aid by six percent.
Defending his decision to vote against the measure, Johnson said state can not afford the increase. "There is going to be pressure on the budget in the next couple years. There will be additional costs to the state that we don't know yet," he said.
Johnson went on to say that he is concerned about the promises that have been made by the state and not kept. "The state has failed to keep its promise to Iowa school districts six out of the last 13 fiscal years.
Representative Megan Hess spoke about the Home Base Iowa Initiative, which will encourage military personnel leaving the active duty to consider Iowa as a place to attend school or seek employment. Hess reported that Major General Orr, during his comments to a joint session regarding the condition of the National Guard, commented that Iowa has an opportunity it may not see again.
When asked about the potential of the gas tax being raised by 10 cents per gallon to deal with crumbling infrastructure, both Johnson and Hess responded. Johnson said, speaking for himself, said he is ready to vote in an attempt to move the topic along. He said he believes it could be phased in over time.
"We've got to address it," said Johnson. He added he wants to see that electric cars and hybrids are accounted for.
Hess said she believes that when the bill gets to the floor it will be in a different form. She went on to say that she supports the concept but believes that 10 cents a gallon is not enough to solve the Department of Transportation's issues.
"There will still be infrastructure issues," Hess added.
The first legislative funnel is February 21. For legislative bills to survive, they have to be out of subcommittees by that date.
Other topics discussed during the hour and half meeting included the state's mental health/DHS funding situation, the high costs of propane as well as natural gas and the state's budget.
Johnson said, "We get the governor's budget, we take it apart and put it back together again."