This week marked the second funnel week in the 2014 legislative session. This means that in order to stay alive, a bill must have passed a full vote of one chamber and must be out of committee in the other chamber. The second funnel is a very important week as it sets the priorities for the next 40 days.
After the second funnel week, the session will most likely move pretty fast. We are now about 60 days into the 2014 session. By law, the session is supposed to last 100 days this year. After 100 days, we can still stay in session to finish our work, but legislators are no longer given per diem. In my three years in the Senate, we have gone over the stated time by several weeks every year. This year however, I believe we have a good chance to complete our work in the given time.
After the second funnel, a large amount of the focus is turned to the budget. While most years there is extensive negotiations about the total amount of money spent by the legislature, this year the House Republicans and the Senate Democrats agreed to a joint target for the total budget amount. They agreed to $6.971 billion.
After agreeing to a total amount of money to be spent, there is still a lot of negotiation about where the money will be spent. The budget is broken into 10 separate parts, ranging from $43.1 million (Agriculture and Natural Resources) to $1.86 billion (Health and Human Services). Each smaller budget bill is negotiated separately between the chambers.
Overall, the budget will increase by approximately $480 million. This is about a 7.5% increase over last year. The biggest increases come from education reform ($44 million), property tax reform ($120 million), increased Medicaid costs ($98 million) and increased school aid for K-12 schools ($170 million).
For the fourth year in a row, the state will spend less than we bring in, although this year we are only $3 million below the ongoing revenue. I am pleased that the House Republicans have stood firm on their principle to spend less than we bring in. However, I am disappointed that the budget continues to grow at such a high rate. A 7.5% increase is too much and is especially disappointing considering household income is rising at less than 4% per year. We cannot continue to grow government faster than household income. Working to achieve a sustainable and responsible budget has been, and will continue to be a priority of mine in my time in the Iowa Senate.