What a difference a year makes. Last year, when legislators worked on fiscal 2008 spending, the Iowa General Fund had a projected surplus of nearly $90 million. As the session begins Monday, the legislature faces a fiscal year 2009 budget gap of more than $400 million. The legislature's fiscal research staff projects revenue increases will not be enough to offset the commitments made last year.
Knowing that, Governor Chet Culver has already asked lawmakers and state agencies to hold the line on spending, and the governor says he does not want to increases taxes. Nevertheless, there are proposals from many interests in the state asking for projects to be funded.
Before the lawmakers even entered the starting gate, Governor Culver says he would nix any proposals to increase the gas tax to pay for needed repairs to Iowa's bridges and roads. Lawmakers have been told the state needs $200 million a year over the next 20 years to pay for repairs.
A state task force wants the Iowa General Assembly to enact a $22.8 million proposal to pay livestock operations to fight manure odors. The program would include cost-share money to help livestock operators pay for equipment such as biofilters and help cover changes in animals' diets that can reduce manure and methane production.
In a separate study concerning farm practices, Iowa State University said it would cost more than $600 million a year to enact conservation practices that would cut phosphorus runoff of fields by 40 percent and reduce nitrate loading by 31 percent.
Being tough on crime is not cheap. A legislative interim committee is recommending lawmakers this year, approve spending nearly $240 million dollars to build a new prison in Fort Madison and expand other correction institutions.
More than 250,000 Iowans lack health insurance and a good portion of those have fulltime jobs where the employers either can't afford to, or chooses to not, offer a heath care benefit.
Doug Livy, Quality Motors, Ames: "That's always the question that's often asked: 'Do we provide health insurance for our employees or do we have a health insurance program?' And we felt we had some people that didn't come on board because we didn't offer that."
Many small businessmen, like Doug Livy, who operates a used car lot and car rental service with just eight employees, has tried and failed to find an affordable group insurance plan. Livy, who is also chairman of the board of the Iowa Independent Automobile Dealers Association, says the association has also tried and failed to find an underwriter willing to provide a group policy to the Association's some 300 members.
Livy: "We've looked also on our association, the Iowa Independent Auto Dealers. That's one of the issues they've been working on, hoping to bring to our membership a group plan. It just, seems like in the past years, it's become a lot more difficult to find a group that wants to underwrite somebody that's spread out across the state of Iowa.