This past Saturday I attended a town hall that one of our state representatives, Julian Garrett, held at a local church meeting room. As someone that appreciates consistent communication with those duly elected to represent us, I welcomed the ability to ask questions directly and get an update of what is going on in Des Moines.
There has been much sword rattling down in Des Moines lately over spending, as Governor Branstad is insisting on a two year budget, while the Senate majority refuses to send one to him. All seven House appropriation committees have passed two year budgets already, but nothing can be sent to the Governor’s desk for signature until both houses agree. I asked Julian about this, as I did not understand why we would want a two year budget. He stated that the Governor felt that a two year budget would provide stability and predictability to local governments and school boards. It could also prevent another knee jerk 10% across the board cut that happened halfway through last year’s budget year, as future spending would be more carefully and conservatively considered. Julian stated that it was also irresponsible to use one-time federal monies to fund ongoing expenses, as we should never be in the habit of exceeding incoming tax revenues. In addition, he said that by law we cannot use our reserve fund to do that either, as that fund is for emergencies only. I agree – ongoing expenses only become emergencies if you continue to live outside your means.
There were several people that addressed current issues that have arose due to the many things being underfunded by last year’s legislature, even despite having the one-time stimulus money. A few of these are the current proposed 0% allowable growth for schools, the underfunding of our mental health facilities and the delayed payments of indigent defense lawyers (public attorneys). Julian explained that although the previous legislature allowed a 2% growth for schools last year, they did not fully fund it. He said the current legislature will fully fund that this year, so the schools will actually see $200 million more money than last year. All the 0% growth does is set the ceiling of how much more a school can spend over the previous year. He also added that both the mental health funding and indigent defense funding were included in the Taxpayer First Act that passed out of the House, but the Senate majority stripped all of that out (along with an additional $490 million in savings) when they sent it back.
Another issue brought up was some pending gun legislation, especially in relation to the mental health status of those seeking to carry a firearm, as well as the ability of gun owners to “stand your ground” when threatened no matter where they are. Regarding the former, the pending bill referred to is Senate File 456, which aligns Iowa gun law with federal gun law on this subject. It states that those who have been placed under certain types of mental health-related orders are banned by federal law from possessing firearms. However, it also sets guidelines to allow a person’s right to be restored if a court finds that the petitioner will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest. Regarding the later, unfortunately the “stand your ground” amendment did not pass.
Julian was respectful, informative and not afraid to admit when he did not know something. He agreed with many ideas that the attendees put forward, like a reduction in the unfunded mandates to schools, (favoring local elected schools board spending choices versus those that come out of Des Moines), a place for taxpayers and public employees to post ideas on how to reduce government spending and waste, and the removal of the “use it or lose it” mentality within state department budgets.
It is early in his term, and a lot of the common sense things he is trying to do is being frustrated by our divided legislature. There were a lot of good ideas put forth by the few folks that attended. I just wish more in our community took advantage of the opportunity. If we had, Julian’s wife would probably have had to take a lot more notes.
“Mankind will never see an end of trouble until… lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power… become lovers of wisdom.” Plato (428 BC – 348 BC), ancient Greek philosopher, from The Republic, a Socratic dialogue written around 380 BC