Iowa Rep. Jack Drake and Sen. Hubert Houser visited Creston Saturday for a legislative coffee, sponsored by Creston Chamber of Commerce. Members of the community were invited to the open forum to ask question or express concerns.
Creston Mayor Warren Woods opened the conversation by expressing his concern over Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal to reduce $600,000 of funding for the state’s Area Agencies on Aging.
“It affects our seniors, not just in Creston, but in the rural areas,” said Woods. “It’s really important for our seniors to have the same kind of services available to them, as there are in Council Bluffs or Des Moines.”
Seniors in rural areas are more dependent on the AAA’s services, because of a lack of other options. Budget reductions will impact the AAAs by limiting the number of seniors receiving home or congregate meals, case management services, transportation to medical appointments, senior activities and necessary errands and homemaker services, such as food preparation and housework. Reduction of services, particularly for seniors without transportation, will cause them to be isolated or excluded.
Creston resident Marsha Fulton said there is a concern about funding particularly to keep seniors in their homes.
According to Fulton, it costs approximately $600 a month to keep a senior in their home with current support, and $3,000 a month to house a senior in a nursing home.
“It’s really pennywise and pound-foolish not to secure the benefits for our seniors to stay in their homes, where they are happier and its a better thing,” said Fulton. “And it’s very cost effective to do that.”
Creston resident Mike Lang asked what will be done with Iowa’s $800 million budget surplus.
“It makes me nervous,” said Lang. “If it sits there, someone is going to want to spend it.”
According to Drake, there is no current plan to refund the surplus to Iowans, however, it is possible to gain a tax credit when filing 2013 personal income tax returns.
“If you have not a real high income, you would get the same tax credit as someone making a million dollars,” said Drake.
Drake said the surplus is also tied in with a bill that will provide taxpayers a flat tax, which will take away all deductions.
“You will have $6,235 for a one-time personal exemption, and double that for a couple,” said Drake. “Its estimated 39 percent of the people will like that, and the income of 30 thousand to 40 thousand will probably be the ones to use it.”
Woods suggested a portion of the surplus be spent on infrastructure.
“Not only would it create jobs, the cities and counties, and the state can well use the money for streets, sewers and other services,” said Woods. “It would be a great way to spend it.”
According to Drake, there is support for doing that, but he does not know if there is enough to do it.
Creston resident Karen Finn shared statistics from a Union County district pamphlet that ranks Iowa No. 1 in the production of corn, soy beans, hogs and eggs, and ranked 47th in the nation when it comes to state conservation funding.
“I think we’ve got our priorities backwards,” said Finn.
Houser said the agriculture budget has been hit hard, as more money has been put toward human services and education.
According to Iowa Department of Natural Resources District Supervisor Bob Schierbaum, the new budget has reduced lake restoration funds from 8.6 to 1 million.
“It’s helped a lot of the lakes,” said Schierbaum.
Schierbaum then asked if there will be additional funding.
Drake said one of the challenges for lake restoration is, it is uncertain if sediment should be controlled before it enters a lake, or if lakes should be preserved and still have sediment coming in. However, it is being looked at.
Bills to the Senate
As of last week, three bills have been sent to the Senate; the administration and regulation appropriations bill, transportation appropriations bill and education appropriations bill. These bills determine the amount of funding from the general fund and other sources of revenue.
The administration and regulation appropriations bill shows a proposed increase of $2 million from the general fund, a decrease of $2.7 from other funds for fiscal year 2014 and decrease of 12.6 full-time equivalent positions compared to fiscal year 2013.
The education appropriations bill proposes a total of $894.9 million from the general fund, an increase of $33.9 million and 15.9 full-time equivalent positions compare to fiscal year 2013.
“We are through the final week. Both the Senate and the House are busy moving the bills out of committee,” said Houser. “I would say, by the end of next week, we will shut the standing committees down and the house will start to move some appropriation bills.”
Houser said, normally, once appropriation bills start moving, the end of session is near. However, he thinks it will drag on. Houser said this is beacause of the conservative nature of the House and more liberal spending approach by the Senate.
“There’s going to be a lot of negotiations,” said Houser. “And we haven’t moved any major bills out of Senate yet.”
The “major bills” Houser is referring to are appropriation bills for allowable growth, education reform, property-tax relief and Medicaid expansion.
“We are not going to spend more money than we take in,” said Drake. “We do not want to spend one time money for on-going programs.
Drake and Houser both said it will be difficult as budget cuts will effect every area of spending, but are doing the best they can with the money available.
“We don’t purposely underfund any budget out there,” said Drake.
More information on Iowa’s appropriation bills may be found online at www.legis.iowa.gov.
The Creston Chamber of Commerce invites the community to attend the final legislative coffee for this session, which will be held 8 a.m. April 27 at the YMCA multipurpose room if the legislature is still in session.