DES MOINES — Rep. Ron Jorgensen thinks he has a better way of budgeting for Iowa’s K-12 schools, but Democrats haven’t been beating a path to the Sioux City Republican’s door so far.
Jorgensen, the chairman of the House Education Committee, won approval of his “prudent budget practices” plan for setting what lawmakers call allowable growth for schools for two years during every odd-numbered year. Current law calls for setting the state percentage of growth — state aid — and the categorical state percentage of growth, not for the following year, but the year after that, within 30 days of the governor submitting his budget.
“A failed attempt to change the law is no excuse for failure to follow the law,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, responded. The GOP-controlled House “should obey the law as it is.”
“As it is” may give local school districts ample time for planning, but Jorgensen thinks it might shortchange them in the long run.
“We have a regular problem in the past honoring our commitments to school funding and taking back what we’ve promised,” he said Tuesday.
He attributes that to the fact lawmakers have to set allowable growth without having Revenue Estimating Conference projections and without knowing other budget needs.
“So we have to be conservative,” he said.
House File 2194 would change the budget process to have lawmakers set allowable growth every other year. For example, in 2015, the Legislature would set the numbers for 2016 within 30 days of the start of the session. Lawmakers would set allowable growth for 2017 before adjourning.
“I want to align 43 percent of the general fund budget within the two-year budget process,” Jorgensen explained.
HF 2194 would allow lawmakers to “get out of the annual mode of taking back what we've promised,” he said.
Democrats do not agree with the change. HF 2194 passed out of committee 13-10, along party lines. Jorgensen said discussions with Quirmbach have not been encouraging.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Quirmbach said about HF 2194. “I have no interest in it.”
The House should take up the Senate proposal for a 6 percent increase in allowable growth, he added.
HF 2194 may go to the full House later this week ahead of the Feb. 13 deadline in current law for setting allowable growth.
Jorgensen is resigned to the bill’s fate in the Senate.
“My expectations are low,” he said, “but it’s the right thing to do, so I won’t give up hope. I’ve been doing budgets for 35 years, and the way we do it is not a good practice.”