Iowa Legislature, unbound.
Unbound of politically problematic questions. Unbound of campaign-season criticism. Unbound of rules that, while essential to good governance, stand in the way of political aspirations.
Last week, Iowa House's GOP leadership announced its intention to repeal rules that require early adoption of education funding. For years, the Legislature has ignored its own laws and refused to set base school funding levels two years ahead of time. Members annually flout its required mandate to grapple with the state budget's most weighty component early in the session.
No, they would rather kick the can for a month or two. All along, schools are left in the lurch.
Clearly, out-year school budgeting is possible, offering districts much-needed stability. Some states pass entire budgets in two-year cycles. But, suddenly, Iowa's House leadership isn't comfortable with working from revenue estimates that far out. Or so it says.
To be clear, the law's death would mean little to local school districts, because lawmakers were in constant violation. The law's power is in its symbolism. It's an incessant example of the Legislature's dysfunction.
Politics is the real reason for the sudden push to kill the out-year budgeting mandate. Public school funding is an annual slug-fest, at least it was when Democrats owned the Senate. The two sides would dig in, blow through the legal mandate and, come re-election, have to answer for it.
The budgeting process is broken in Des Moines. But political convenience dictates killing the right-minded laws instead of grappling with the system's shortcomings.
If only Art Tate, superintendent of Davenport Community Schools, had it so easy, eh?
Tate is charged with violating budget laws, too. He rejected out-of-whack limitations on per-pupil spending and is right now spending cash that had done little but collect dust to level inequity among Iowa's school districts.
Tate's act is illegal, and the state Education Department is investigating his alleged "ethics violation." But most justified acts of civil disobedience are concurrently illegal and wholly moral. Ethics and legality are not necessarily mutually inclusive.
But Tate doesn't enjoy the Legislature's cover. It's an institution, not a man. It's up to the voters to hold the entire Legislature in contempt for repeated violations.
And that's the angle here. Any lawmaker interested in this repeal is driven not by good government. They're just sick of the yoke the funding laws hang around their necks every year.
The House GOP's proposal is a crash-course in self-service over duty. And criticism of the proposal shouldn't be brushed aside as standard partisanship. Even Gov. Terry Branstad, the figurehead of Iowa GOP, has long supported early and forward-looking school funding levels.
But, as usual, good governance would take a back seat to partisan aims, should the Legislature kill the right-minded mandate.
It's just another example that laws apply only to those who can't write themselves out of them.