DES MOINES — Majority GOP legislators on Thursday reached a tentative agreement on a $7.643 billion general fund budget for fiscal 2020.
“I believe this budget is sustainable and fiscally responsible,” said Sen. Michael Breitbach, R-Strawberry Point, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“You can always find somebody that feels that they need more money to do something dif-ferent,” Breitbach added. “We have to be responsible to the taxpayers because it’s not our money that we’re spending.”
Overall, the fiscal 2020 will have about $197.2 million available for new spending once one-time issues associated with the current-year budget are taken out — including $113.1 million for repayment of the cash reserve; $69 million of a $150.3 million supplemental for Medicaid; and another $15 million in disaster funding for flood victims.
Under the proposed budget, all of the state’s reserve accounts would be filled, with a pro-jected ending balance of nearly $300 million at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2020.
House and Senate negotiators started about $50 million apart when they issued their initial budget targets.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said the two chambers landed close to the middle in arriving at a spending level about $16 million under Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recommendation.
“They came up; we came down,” Upmeyer said.
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Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said House Republicans felt they protected their budget priorities while making adjustments to reach a negotiated pact.
“This agreement is the product of working closely together with the Senate to develop a responsible budget plan that Iowans can be proud of,” Grassley said.
“This budget plan ensures that we can fund key priorities like community colleges, career training programs, rural hospitals, nursing homes, public safety, and initiatives to support rural Iowa,” he added. “These are all important programs that Iowans value and support.”
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said leaders of the House-Senate budget subcommittees would go through their appropriations line by line and plan to have drafts ready for legislators to debate next week.
Those subcommittee leaders will make decisions on how to reach agreed-upon targets, Breitbach said.
Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, noted the difference between the total the House has in its higher education budget bill, approved earlier this month, and the new joint target.
Senate Republicans were close to the governor on community college funding but below the House on a lump sum for the state Board of Regents to divide among the three state universities.
Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, told the Senate Appropriations Committee he expected the funding levels in the higher-education bill would mean “we’re going to see some tuition increase” as a result of GOP spending decisions.
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said Democrats believe education at all levels is “being short changed” in the GOP spending plan because increases are not keeping up with inflation.
He said the state could be prudent and still provide more money for needs like disaster relief in western Iowa beyond the $15 million the governor and GOP leaders have proposed yet this fiscal year.
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“There’s no use leaving money on the sideline when it could be put to use,” he said.
Whitver said it’s possible the Legislature could adjourn its 2019 session by next Friday.
“We’ve had a very good week, and things have progressed pretty well,” Whitver said in an interview Thursday. “I’m still hopeful we can get done next Friday. It’s going to take a lot of work, and it’s going to take some major policy pieces falling into place as well. But if those policy bills fall into place and we don’t have any hiccups in the next 24 hours, I think we can make a run at next week.”
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