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IRWA Legislative Update (6/18/2015)

Emily Piper, Contract Specialist

Emily Piper

Contract Lobbyist
515-202-7772

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The final action of the 2015 legislative session took place on June 5, five weeks after the statutory deadline for adjournment.   Deep philosophical differences over the state of Iowa’s budget and spending priorities dominated the legislative session and contributed to the delay in final adjournment.

Iowa law requires that the governor submit a budget that is no more than 99% of estimated revenues plus the ending fund balance from the prior fiscal year.   Both Governor Branstad and Senate Democrats originally outlined their budget priorities, spending the same overall amount.   House Republicans, on the other hand, developed spending targets based only on the 99% of estimated revenues, leaving the FY 2015 ending fund balance untouched.  In the end, Senate Democrats agreed to the lower spending targets proposed by House Republicans in an effort to avoid a potential government shutdown if an agreement was not reached by June 30.  In exchange, House Republicans agreed to a one-time funding bill that uses the ending fund balance from FY 2015 to provide additional resources to certain programs.   As of press time, Governor Branstad had not yet taken action on this bill, much of which is likely to face the veto pen.

Education spending and the gas tax increase were the two dominant issues for this legislative session.   Passage of the increase in the gas tax was accomplished with bi-partisan votes in both chambers but also created rifts within the caucuses.   These rifts provided challenges for leadership as they worked to resolve other policy issues.  

This legislature passed the fewest number of policy bills in recent memory.   Eminent domain restrictions on the Baaken pipeline, Clean Line Energy and the Clarke County Reservoir made news but most bills fizzled at the end of the session.  However, the legislature did act to put stringent limits on the ability of Clarke County to build a surface drinking water reservoir. 

While the language adopted in the standing appropriations bill applies only to Clarke County, it is a dangerous precedent for other areas that may turn to the development of a surface drinking water supply.   The language limits the size of the Clarke County reservoir to only that water needed to serve the population as certified by the last federal census.   This calculation excludes the businesses and agricultural users of water in that county.  In addition, it removes the cost consideration from the process of examining alternatives.  Thus, if an alternative to the reservoir is possible, it must be the approach taken to provide water regardless of cost or sustainability.  As of press time, Governor Branstad had not yet taken action on this bill.   Policy items in budget bills may be subject to the line item veto.

IRWA’s top priority, removing the sales tax on residential water sales, was well received by legislators but fell victim to the arguments over the budget.  Prior commitments (backfill for the commercial property tax cut, the teacher leadership compensation program) and the continued pressure from increased Medicaid costs left little new revenue for other program areas.  Despite budgetary concerns, the building blocks for future success were placed as House Republicans became more aware of this tax.   Phasing out the sales tax on water for both residential and business customers will remove approximately $3 million a year for six years from the state’s revenue.   While not a large amount in a $7 billion budget, it proved to be a solid obstacle this year.  IRWA will continue to work to educate legislators about the impact of this regressive tax and why it is important to remove it.

Debate over cell tower siting regulations started early in the session and agreement was not reached until the final days.   IRWA worked to clearly exempt regional water systems.   The final bill includes a clear exemption for rural water systems from the requirements of the bill.   In addition, modifications were made during legislative negotiations to provide cities and counties with more control over cell tower siting requests.   As of press time, Governor Branstad had not taken action on this bill.

Other policy issues of interest to regional water systems and small communities include:

 


 

Click on photo below to view a larger image. Slideshow presentation is also available.

Iowa's delegation meeting with Senator Charles Grassley
Iowa's delegation meeting with Senator Tom Harkin
Iowa's delegation meeting with Senator
Charles Grassley

Iowa's delegation meeting with Senator
Tom Harkin


Iowa's delegation meeting with Congressman Steve King
Iowa's delegation meeting with Congressman Tom Latham
Iowa's delegation meeting with Congressman
Steve King


Iowa's delegation meeting with Congressman
Tom Latham


Iowa's delegation meeting with Congressman Dave Loebsack
 
Iowa's delegation meeting with Congressman
Dave Loebsack