The numbers game

If you don’t spend a lot of time paying attention to the budget committee process at the legislature, I’ll start with a primer.  If you do, skip past this backgrounder.  There is a House Appropriations Committee made up of 25 representatives and a Senate Appropriations Committee made up of 25 senators.  Then, there are seven appropriations subcommittees.  Each of those subcommittees is made up of five senators and nine representatives.  It is in those subcommittees that budgets for state agencies and other government operations are first developed.  For the subcommittee to agree on or “pass” a plan, at least three of the senators and five of the representatives must support it. If you’re doing the math at home — or in your office — that’s the way you ensure the budget outline that’s been developed by the subcommittee has the support of a majority of senate members and a majority of house members on the panel.  

After the budget subcommittees approve a budget plan, then an Appropriations Committee in the House or Senate has to review the document and give the budget draft its approval before the full House or Senate can debate the plan.  (Here’s a list of the committtees and subcommittees in the Iowa General Assembly.)

This morning Democratic legislative leaders announced what they call their “budget targets” — the amount of money each of those seven respective budget subcommittees should allocate/spend in the area of state government over which they have jurisdiction in the budget-writing process.  Read the press release from Democrats below, followed by reaction from House Republicans.

Leaders outline framework of fiscally responsible plan to help middle-class Iowans, small businesses

Iowa House and Senate leaders today released budget targets that are part of a fiscally responsible plan to help middle-class families, small businesses and other Iowans recover from the national recession.

The budget targets announced today will guide the work of legislative committees as they develop the state budget for the 2010-2011 budget.

“Democrats remain more committed than ever to balancing the budget without raising taxes, continuing to listen to Iowans, and creating more accountability in state government,” said Rep. Jo Oldson of Des Moines, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.  “We are crafting a responsible economic plan that includes spending less from the general fund next year than we did this year.”

 “We are moving ahead with several initiatives that are part of an economic plan to ensure that middle-class Iowa families and small business recover from the national recession stronger than ever,” said Senator Bob Dvorsky of Coralville, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Our top priorities continue to be strengthening Iowa’s middle class by helping create good-paying jobs across our state, expanding access to affordable health care and maintaining opportunities for a quality education for all Iowans.”

The budget framework released today is just the first step in the Legislature’s budgeting process.  The seven budget subcommittees will now begin crafting specific legislation with their priorities.  The two leaders also outlined several budget principles that will guide the budget subcommittees – as well as other legislative committees — in the final weeks of the 2010 session:

►       Avoiding raising taxes on middle class families to balance the state budget
►       Identifying and eliminating wasteful government spending
►       Providing more accountability and oversight for tax breaks for corporations that do not create or keep jobs in Iowa
►       Improving government efficiency and stop duplication of services

Oldson and Dvorsky said additional steps being taken so far this year include:
• House and Senate passage of a sweeping plan to streamline state government and save taxpayers more than $120 million.  Senate File 2088 will make state government leaner, more accountable to the public and better able to serve taxpayers.
• Final approve of an early retirement plan that will provide nearly $60 million in annual savings.
• Savings totaling more than $70 million enacted through an executive order by Governor Culver.
• Conducting a review of corporate tax credits to determine which ones aren’t creating jobs or accomplishing their goals, and proposed legislation to fix or eliminate ineffective corporate tax credits.
“These are difficult times for family budgets and the state budget is no different.  We face significant challenges, but we’re ready to work with Governor Culver and Republicans to focus on the priorities of the middle-class Iowans and small businesses,” said Oldson.

(DES MOINES)—House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) released the following statement following the Democrats’ release of the partial budget targets:

“These targets give the public an incomplete picture of the Democrats’ spending plan.  However, based on what I’ve seen, it appears that legislative Democrats plan to carry forward Gov. Culver’s property tax increases.

 “House Republicans will not support a budget that spends more money than the state takes in.  Republicans have outlined over $600 million in cost-savings during the last two years.  We will continue to fight for limited government and responsible budgeting as the bills move through the process.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.