Forum covers water quality, state aid

Sen. Tod Bowman

Sen. Dan Zumbach

Rep. Andy McKean

Rep. Lee Hein
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County Economic Development, Director Dusty Embree, hosted its first legislative forum of the 2017 session.

     Senators Tod Bowman and Dan Zumbach were present, as were Representatives Andy McKean and Lee Hein.

     Embree took questions from the audience.

     Brad Hatcher, who sits on the Parks to People (Grant Wood Loop) committee, asked what would become of the Iowa Water & Land Legacy initiative. In 2010, 63 percent of Iowan voters supported a constitutional amendment to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. This was supposed to be a permanent funding source dedicated toward clean water and land practices.

     Now, six years later, the fund sits empty because it requires a sales tax increase of three-eights of a cent to fund.

     Hatcher asked why it has yet to be funded.

     Hein admitted that he does not see the Trust Fund “gaining traction” this session.

     “The fear is that this is another way to get more money in the general fund,” he said.

     McKean said he knows that water quality is a huge issue in Iowa right now; however, he does not want to raise taxes.

     “Iowa is already a high-taxed state,” he said. “But I am committed personally to finding the money fore water quality.”

     Zumbach said, tied to implementing the sales tax increase, there is a long-term goal of the Iowa legislature for tax reform.

     “We need to decide how the money would be distributed,” he said, “not add a new tax on top.”

     Like Hein, Zumbach said the desire does not exist to fund the Trust Fund.

     Bowman said if it centered solely on water quality, which is the hot button issue right now, it could be addressed.

     “I’d rather see a comprehensive approach,” Bowman said.

     Eric Briesemeister, CEO of Jones Regional Medical Center, asked the legislators what they are seeing and hearing regarding the change to MCOs (managed care organizations). Briesemeister said it’s a commitment working with three different MCOs, each with its own process. However, he said JRMC is committed to making the initiative work if that’s what the state is asking.

     “It’s had its moments,” said Briesemeister. “It getter better.”

     He asked the legislators to share any success stories with those dealing with MCOs, which would help “make the process more consistent.”

     Bowman said the issues are being ironed out right now, and feels more time is needed to look into the issues before the state scraps the concept.

     “We haven’t seen the efficiencies yet,” said Bowman. “It’s a complicated issue.”

     McKean said he has personally dealt with MCOs due to a daughter that is disabled, and attested to not experiencing any issues with the MCOs.

     “But I have heard from constituents and providers who have had problems,” he said. “I’m committed to seeing it go well. We owe it to our taxpayers who pay for it to be as efficient and cost effective as possible.”

     Zumbach said the transition to MCOs hasn’t even been in effect for a full yet.

     “Any new system will have its glitches,” he said.

     Brian Rodenberg, superintendent of Midland Schools, inquired as to when schools would hear about the amount the state is willing to appropriate (state supplemental aid).

     McKean said as a new member of the Iowa House, he is committed to providing schools with a figure within 30 days of the start of the session.

     “We need to follow state law,” he said in terms of the timeframe.

     McKean said he would like to see the local schools make their own funding decisions.

     “We need to allow schools more flexibility so they can be more effective,” he said.

     Zumbach assured Rodenberg that a supplemental aid decision could come as early as this week. However, Bowman said he would not vote anything until there was a hand figure in place.

     “We don’t want to go backward with education and available learning opportunities for our students,” urged Bowman.

     When it comes to the budget, Hein said there are many departments the state funds that, unlike education, have not seen funding increases in several years.

     Bill Sperfslage, the warden at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, simply asked if the state could provide a figure sooner rather than later for funding correctional institutions.

     “We’re more than half way through our fiscal year,” said Sperfslage. :”I hope you keep the eye on the ball long term.”

     Hein said he was disappointed he couldn’t give Sperfslage a hard figure in terms of funding. He hoped there would be something on Governor Branstad’s desk by the end of this week.

     “You’re a sight unseen,” explained Hein of the prison systems. “People forget the fantastic job you guys are doing. We hope to get you a little more money.”

     Despite the cuts and de-appropriations, Bowman said the state is not in dire needs.

     “It is not dooms day for the State of Iowa,” he said. “Many states would like to be in the fiscal state Iowa is in right now. We’ll get through this and things will improve.”


Subscriber Login