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Iowa State Association of Counties’ Top Legislative Priorities Explained For 2018

By Staff | Jan 11, 2018

The Iowa State Association of Counties released their top legislative priorities for the upcoming year this past November, which includes Mental Health and Disability Services, Secondary Roads, Tax Reform and Water Quality Management.

Iowa is facing shortages in the number of psychiatric beds and mental health professionals in the coming years; however, the number of Iowans with mental illness is increasing. In 2017, progress was made when Governor Branstad signed a bill eliminating the 1996 individual county levy caps. New regional cap levies set new limits of 20% cash carried forward for regions with a population of 100,000 and above and 25% cash carried forward for regions below 100,000. The bill also spreads the spend down of the cash balances over a three-year period.

Even though the new legislation calls for removing the 1996 county caps and providing equity within the regions, it is not a permanent financial fix for the Mental Health and Disability Services (MH/DS). The new bill also calls for further study of the financial stability of the MH/DS regions to be conducted in the interim after the 2018 session and to make recommended changes in the 2019 session.

Challenges still remain in providing sufficient resources for the core plus services that are being required by the Department of Human Services (DHS). ISAC suggests that legislators need to look at providing adequate levels of MHDS services outside of the correctional system. These services would include the necessary number of psychiatric beds in our state’s mental health facilities and hospitals to address acute care needs. Also, the legislators need to address the severe lack of mental health professionals in Iowa, especially in rural areas as well as providing sufficient funding for the effective implementation of a Children’s MS/DS program.

Iowa’s bridges and roads are a vital component of the continued growth of the state’s economy, and every road jurisdiction has struggled to satisfactorily keep up its portion of the road system. The increase in the per gallon fuel tax and permit fees for oversized and overweight vehicles will help concentrate on this problem; however, the cost of maintaining and building roads continues to increase. Along with general inflation, Iowa’s harsh winters, flooding and heavy equipment traveling the roads have considerably worsened maintenance issues of county roads. Because Counties are limited to the amount of general fund dollars that can be transferred for use on secondary roads and bridges, they are dependent on funding through state and federal levels to maintain the critical infrastructure throughout the State.

The use of Transportation Investment Moves the Economy in the 21st Century (TIME-21) funds is limited strictly to farm-to-market roads and bridge construction. Shortfalls in road funding have caused counties to turn to bonding to pay for critical funding for roads and bridges. These bonds are repaid with property tax revenues making it contrary to the state’s goal of reducing property taxes throughout the state.

ISAC’s solutions to this issue is 1) to maintain the $225 million cap to the TIME-21 Fund and increased revenues beyond this cap should be distributed through the Road Use Tax Fund formula, 2) remove restrictions on the use of TIME-21 and other new road funds and allow counties to use all new road funds for any secondary road purpose, 3) apply the state excise sales tax on dyed fuel sales to bridge and culvert repairs and replacement on the secondary road system and 4) explore the use of surcharges, impact fees, development fees, or licensing for large confinement operations, hydraulic fracturing projects, biofuel production facilities and wind energy conversion farms. Examples include but are not limited to: a per head livestock fee; a per gallon liquid manure fee; a permit fee for large agricultural equipment used on county roads; a minimal per gallon fee for each gallon of biofuel produced or other use-based fees.