By REP. DAN KELLEY
We are entering what is expected to be the final month of the legislative session under the golden dome. This is a critical time for budget bills and appropriations committees. I serve as Ranking Member, or lead Democrat, on the Administration and Regulations Budget Subcommittee. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appointed me to this position one month before the session began. It's a tremendous opportunity and challenge.
All appropriations committees are made up of House and Senate members. We are working to appropriate 13 departments, agencies and offices, including the offices of Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer and State Auditor. We also set budgets for departments and agencies such as Ethics and Campaign Disclosure, Drug Control Policy, Human Rights and Inspections/Appeals, among others.
Serving as Ranking Member on this committee allows me to work to meet the needs of Iowans while maintaining a balanced budget and finding cost saving reductions. While the budget is still a work in progress, in total we will appropriate $52.6 million, which is a decrease of $6.7 million from fiscal year 2011.
On Tuesday, our budget was the subject of a four and a half hour debate. It was an exciting afternoon. As Ranking Member, it's my responsibility to make sure amendments are filed and members of my caucus are prepared for the debate. I also did my best to communicate with the House Majority to find common ground and express concerns before we entered debate. Once the debate started, I serve as the key Minority member in discussions on the overall budget and amendments.
While we've already found common ground on many areas of the budget, there remain two main points of contention. First, the House Majority proposes an across-the-board cut of 2.95 percent to the departments, agencies and offices we appropriate. One exception, they propose funding the Department of Inspections and Appeals by scooping $3 million from the Medicaid Fraud Fund, an unpredictable source.
Why do we differ in these areas? First, I am concerned with reducing the budget by a flat percentage. This has not proven to be effective in the past. During floor debate, I stated, "I would prefer finding new ways to save money instead of cutting vital services."
Second, my priority is to meet the needs of Iowans, particularly vulnerable Iowans such as seniors in nursing homes. By funding the Department of Inspections and Appeals with an unstable source of funding, the Medicaid Fraud Fund, we do little to protect them. The Medicaid Fraud Fund is an unpredictable funding source dependent upon settlement with bad actors in the pharmaceutical industry. The House Majority proposal makes our nursing home inspectors dependent upon these unstable funds. I find this unacceptable.
During debate, the House Majority proposed "fixing" the problem in fiscal year 2014. In response, I filed an amendment to fund this critical department with stable support from the state's General Fund. I said, "We can fix the problem now, rather than later." While I had the support of many House members, the Majority party defeated my sensible amendment, putting vulnerable senior citizens at risk.
I am committed to building a budget that provides support for all Iowans. Understand, this is a three-way process involving the House, Senate and the Governor's office. While I'll continue to search for common ground, when vulnerable senior Iowans are put at risk, I will fight for them.
I will also continue to fight for a level playing field for the unemployed. Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that Governor Branstad overstepped his authority last year when he closed 36 workforce centers, including the one in Newton. The issue arose after a bipartisan legislative effort to provide funding and keep them all open. Governor Branstad then vetoed the language in the legislation mandating that the field offices be kept open.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle agree these centers provide critical job training assistance and accountability for Iowans looking for work. They also help local businesses to find skilled workers. As a result of the Governors illegal action, all state funding for workforce development was invalidated. While the ruling will not take effect for three weeks, legislators are committed to working together to take quick action to make sure unemployed and underemployed Iowans can get the assistance they need to land a good-paying job.
Unfortunately, I am doubtful the Iowa Supreme Court ruling will lead to reopening of the Newton workforce office. The Governor has been very clear about his intentions. The ruling is that he broke the law. It says nothing about reopening offices. While the Governor might have to find a different approach, he is motivated to keep the offices closed.
Currently, Newton's unemployed are served by the office in Marshalltown. While I'm glad some service is available, I am aware this puts added pressure on unemployed Jasper County residents. With gas prices reaching $4, it's a horrible time to require unemployed Iowans to travel unnecessarily.
While a computer kiosk has been made available at the Newton Public Library by Iowa Workforce Development, it is hardly an equitable replacement. Also, local libraries receive no financial assistance from the state for fulfilling this new responsibility. It's an unfunded mandate on our public libraries and it's wrong. It also puts unemployed residents who lack computer skills in an even worse situation.
Feel free to contact me anytime at 641-521-9260 or dan.kelley(at sign)legis.state.ia.us. Visit my web site at electkelley.com, friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.