Farm Bureau forum hits on mental health funding

Rep. Lee Hein, Rep. Andy McKean, and Sen. Carrie Koelker spoke to about a dozen people during the Farm Bureau forum on Feb. 7. The biggest topic was mental health and IWILL funding. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County Farm Bureau hosted a legislative forum on Feb. 7 at Kirkwood Jones Regional Education Center in Monticello.

     There were roughly a dozen people in attendance.

     Rep. Lee Hein, Rep. Andy McKean, and Sen. Carrie Koelker were also present to answer people’s questions. Also present was Steve Bradley of Cascade who is running against McKean for Dist. 58 in the November general election.

     Still, the biggest topic centers on funding mental health and IWILL (Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy), whether through property tax or sales tax.

     Hein, who is chair of the Ways & Means Committee, just received Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed bill to fund IWILL.

     “I’m a little disappointed it didn’t come sooner because it is a pretty large bill and there are a lot of moving parts within it,” express Hein.

     He explained that it raises the state sales tax by one penny, which would produce an additional $540 million.

     “That’s a lot of dollars,” said Hein.

     Ten years ago when the state passes IWILL, it stipulated that three-eights would go toward natural resources and outdoor recreation.

     “It’s in our constitution,” said Hein.

     However, how that money can be specifically spent is spelled out in the code, which Hein said could be changed and modified.

     “What they wrote back in 2008/09, some of our priorities have changed. Water quality probably wasn’t as high on the list as to what it is now,” Hein used as an example.

     The remaining five-eights would go toward mental health funding, lifting the burden off of Iowa’s taxpayers.

     “I firmly believe in broadening that tax on to more people,” expressed Hein. “Mental Health spending will probably continue to grow as we move into the future.”

     McKean said he is encouraged by the Governor’s bill. As an advocate for rural Iowa economic development quality of life, McKean would like to see more money spent on environmental protection and recreational opportunities.

     “It’s a very interesting concept if we could work out the details. It could do a lot of good things and take some of the burden off of property taxpayers,” McKean said. “I, for one, am willing to take a good hard look at it. I hope we could all put our heads together and make it a bi-partisan effort and come forth with something that could be really good for the State of Iowa.”

     Hein said he has a lot of questions himself about the Governor’s proposed bill. One, if the state removes the mental health burden off property taxes, counties cannot take that revenue and spend it elsewhere.

     “It needs to be a true property tax reduction,” he said. “I have faith in most of the county supervisors that it will happen, but I don’t have faith in all of them.”

     Both McKean and Hein stipulated that an increase in sales tax does not mean an automatic increase in taxes in Iowa.

     “The intent of the bill is to try and address our recreational and environmental and mental health needs in a different way that may be more equitable,” McKean explained. “We’re not talking about an overall tax increase.”

     Hein said he refers to it as a shift in tax spending.

     “There will also be more money put into mental health than there is currently. In outlying years, as sales tax increase, there will be more money going towards it,” he said.

     McKean said Iowa’s mental health system is not something to be proud of, for sure. “It needs a lot of work and a lot of help.”

     Farm Bureau member Darrick Hall praised the legislators for trying to find a solution to a very complicated issue. He noted that funding so many entities cannot be an easy task, but felt the sales tax increase is the way to go.

     “I think we have the answer in front of us, if we can put our heads together. I would challenge and encourage you to find a solution, sooner than later,” urged Hall. “We appreciate your commitment.”

     Hall said Iowa is just one of a few states that still fund mental health. “It’s an absolutely flawed system.”

     Hall also agreed that the state needs to look at the ways in which the three-eights of a cent should be spent for IWILL.

     “Our priorities have changed in the last 10 years for sure,” he said.

     Koelker assured Farm Bureau that the Governor has sat down with Farm Bureau members and brought them to the table in discussing mental health funding.

     “They have had many discussions on where we can give and where we can take,” she said.

     Koelker added that conservation departments throughout the state have also signed on to support the proposal in terms of funding for IWILL.

     “You’re talking about so many different areas of interest. It’s a chance for people to come to the table and everybody is going to have to do some give and take,” McKean said. “We’re going to have to put our heads together and come up with some way to address everybody’s concerns and move forward as a state for a change and put the political party labels secondary.”


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