SENATE CONFIRMATIONS: The Iowa Senate voted 48-1 to confirm 48 of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appointments to various state positions, boards and commissions.
Senators confirmed Jeff Wright as chairman of the Iowa Board of Parole, Timon Oujiri as commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown and Katie Averill as the state superintendent of credit unions.
Among the other appointments to state board and commissions were W. Thomas Phillips to the state Board of Corrections and Sherrae Hanson to the Iowa Lottery Authority board of directors.
Confirmation requires a two-thirds, or at least 34 affirmative votes in a chamber made up of 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats and one independent.
REYNOLDS BACKS FOXHOVEN: Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters Monday she is confident the Iowa Senate will confirm Jerry Foxhoven as her choice to direct the state Department of Human Services.
Foxhoven, who has led the DHS for eight months, must be confirmed by a two-thirds majority of the Iowa Senate.
His nomination cleared a Senate committee last week with eight GOP votes. But five Democrats opposed his confirmation over concerns about unresolved problems with the Medicaid program — from denied care for patients to unpaid bills for doctors, hospitals and other health care professionals since the state began contracting in April 2016 with private companies to manage care provided to eligible recipients.
On Monday, Reynolds came to the defense of her embattled DHS director, praising the job he has done in leading on the mental health, opioid and Medicaid managed-care issues.
“I think in a relatively short time his record speaks pretty good, and I have confidence he’ll be confirmed in the end,” the governor told her weekly news conference. “I think he’s doing a lot of positive things, and I have full confidence in Director Foxhoven to continue to do the good work that he’s doing.”
ENERGY PLAN: Iowa Economic Development Director Debi Durham and Brian Selinger briefed members of a House-Senate legislative committee on the Iowa Energy Office and Iowa Energy Center on Monday. The center, previously overseen by Iowa State University, is not part of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
Selinger said the office has been recognized by the federal Department of Energy as a best practice model. Within a couple of weeks it will be releasing an action plan that will address the state’s “immense biomass resources,” he added.
BALANCING THE STATE BUDGET: A lot may be riding on the revised revenue estimates that come out Friday.
The three-member state Revenue Estimating Conference is slated to meet Friday to re-evaluate the official projection of state tax collections for the current and 2019 fiscal years. If the panel increases its prediction of tax receipts between now and June 30, Gov. Kim Reynolds said, that could reduce or erase a projected shortfall and the need to cut spending to keep the state ledger balanced.
“We’re going to continue to monitor that, and I think that’s why you’ve seen nothing decided at this point," she said. "We want to minimize the de-appropriation as much as we can because I want to make sure again that we do it in a manner that has as little disruption as possible.”
At last count, the House and Senate were about $11 million apart on reaching agreement on how much they’ll cut from the current budget, which funds state government through June 30. Senate Republicans started at $52 million in adjustments, but they pared their de-appropriation bill back to $44 million. The House Appropriations Committee amended Senate File 2117 to cut nearly $33 million from the current spending plan.
Reynolds had projected a $34.5 million shortfall, but last month the Iowa Department of Revenue increased a projected “windfall” to the state from the federal tax rewrite from $11 million to $33 million — nearly erasing the estimated shortfall.
WATER QUALITY: A Senate Natural Resources and Environment subcommittee voted 4-1 Monday to approve a bill to extend a program for collecting conservation data, give rural water associations and industries access to water quality funds that the Legislature approved earlier this year in SF 512 — the first bill signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this session.
House File 2440 would extend the collection of data on farm conservation projects that are being done without government assistance, backers said. It also allows rural water associations to access the funding to treat sediment and bacteria.
Also, industries, such as meatpacking, would be eligible for funds to reduce nutrients in discharge from plants.
SF 512 limits project funding to a maximum of $500,000.
The measure advanced Monday was approved by the Iowa House last month on a 67-31 vote.
HOUSE WISE IOWA: Gov. Kim Reynolds joined Iowa Finance Authority Executive Director Dave Jamison on Monday to launch House Wise Iowa, a promotion designed to educate Iowans about buying a home and the resources available to them — including the new 2018 Mortgage Credit Certificate Program.
The House Wise Iowa promotion offers Iowans a chance to win one of two wise home packages, as well as bonus prizes such as grocery gift cards. Any Iowan 18 or older is eligible to participate by visiting iowafinanceauthority.gov and entering the sweepstakes through June 30.
Jamison said the 2018 IFA-administered Mortgage Credit Certificate Program allows eligible Iowans to buy a home and reduce their federal income tax liability by up to $2,000 a year for the life of their mortgage.
TAX-CUT TALK: Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters Monday she feels confident she and majority legislative Republicans are “going to get something done with tax reform” before the current session adjourns.
The House and Senate are working on two bills that would cut rates and simplify Iowa’s income tax system. The Senate GOP version is more expansive that the House plan, which is styled after Reynolds’ tax-cut proposal.
The governor’s plan did not include corporate income taxes such as the Senate version, but she left the door open Monday to a more-expansive discussion as long as the changes are sustainable and “fiscally responsible” within the context of the state budget and funding priorities.
“This is part of the process. I started with a bill. The Senate has a bill, and now the good work starts to take place where we can find consensus and things that we don’t agree on,” Reynolds said.
The governor unveiled a plan last month to gradually cut individual income tax rates by 23 percent, while the Senate GOP proposal sought to cut up to
$1.2 billion in personal and corporate taxes when fully implemented in 2023.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We want to make sure that we’re leaving ourselves enough cushion to absorb any revision downward.” — Senate Appropriations Chairman Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, on lawmakers taking a wait-to-see approach to a midyear budget reduction.