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Lawmakers differ on budget status

Deficit, cutbacks dominate Eggs and Issues forum

January 30, 2011
By BILL SHEA, Messenger staff writer

Erasing a state budget deficit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year will be a major chore for Iowa lawmakers during their current session.

But Democrats and Republicans disagree on how bad the problem is, and their difference of opinion was displayed Saturday morning during an Eggs and Issues forum in Fort Dodge.

State Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, estimated the deficit at $250 million, ''give or take $10 million on either side.''

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
STATE?Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, makes a point during the first Eggs and Issues forum of the year Saturday morning in the BioSciences and Health Sciences Building at Iowa Central Community College. State Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, and state Sen. Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, listen.

State Rep. Stewart Iverson, R-Clarion, placed the deficit at $700 million.

He said because of that deficit lawmakers ''will all have to make some decisions that we do not want to make.''

Those decisions, including the possible elimination of the statewide voluntary preschool program for 4-year-olds, dominated discussion during the forum.

Fact Box

Iowa Great Places money threatened

By BILL SHEA, Messenger staff writer

The Iowa Great Places designation won by Hamilton and Webster counties last year may not result in any money for local projects because of state budget cuts, lawmakers revealed Saturday.

State Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, said a budget-cutting bill passed by the House of Representatives on Jan. 19 ''freezes'' the program.

That means the local projects would not get any state money, she said.

Miller said she'll work to get the program reinstated.

''I do intend to encourage the Legislature to honor this benefit,'' she said during the Eggs and Issues forum at Iowa Central Community College. ''That's something I hope to keep in place.''

State Rep. Stewart Iverson, R-Clarion, described Iowa Great Places as a ''fantastic program.'' He added that the state has lots of fantastic programs, but Iowa can no longer afford them all.

''We've got to deal with reality, too,'' he said.

The Iowa Great Places initiative combines state and local money to enhance communities that are picked to be part of the program..

In September 2010, Hamilton and Webster counties were selected for the program because of an effort called Where the Rivers Run Wild which emphasizes the Des Moines and Boone rivers.

Local projects to be completed with money and technical assistance through the program include riverfront trails in Fort Dodge, an expansion of the Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park, a downtown Fort Dodge plaza, an outdoor convention center at Briggs Woods Recreation Area in Hamilton County, and an environmental learning center at Brushy Creek State Recreation Area near Lehigh.

Miller said Where the Rivers Run Wild is the only Iowa Great Places project that includes two counties.

The House's budget-cutting bill awaits action in the Senate.

Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or

Iverson and Kibbie were joined at the session by state Sen. Rob Bacon, R-Maxwell; state Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge; state Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge; and state Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie. About 60 people attended the event at Iowa Central Community College.

The preschool program would be axed under a bill passed Jan. 19 in the House of Representatives. And in his proposed budget, Gov. Terry Branstad also calls for ending the program in its current form. Branstad would provide some financial assistance to low income families to help them pay for preschool.

Legislative Democrats have vowed to fight for the preschool program.

''We have an inherent right to a free public education and I believe it starts at preschool,'' Beall said.

He described preschool as the ''best single education investment.''

Bacon said Branstad and Republican legislators aren't ''cutting preschool.'' He said they are looking at different ways to pay for it.

According to Iverson, Branstad's budget proposal includes $43 million for preschool.

The governor's budget plan doesn't contain any new money for public schools through what's called allowable growth in 2011-2012 or 2012-2013.

According to Tjepkes, telling school district leaders in advance that there will be no allowable growth is better than promising that money and then taking some of it away later. He said that's what happened when Gov. Chet Culver implemented a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut.

In the midst of the budget discussion, there was also some talk of refining the law passed last year which established uniform standards for issuing permits to carry weapons.

Tjepkes said legislators may move to replace the current paper permits with something more durable. He said he also wants to eliminate some inconsistencies in the training that's required to get a permit.

Kibbie said that mental illnesses often aren't discovered during the background checks conducted on people seeking a permit. He said he'd like to address that issue in some manner.

Eggs and Issues is sponsored by the Fort Dodge Area Chamber of Commerce and Iowa Central Community College.

Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or



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