February 20 brings the end of the 6th week of the 2015 legislative session, and the 40th session day (of 110 scheduled). There is a lot going on at the Capitol right now with a couple hundred visitors and at least 40 new bills being introduced every single day (sometimes closer to 100). The number of subcommittee meetings is ever increasing as the first funnel deadline on March 6th approaches. Any policy bill (non-tax or spending) that doesn't make it out of committee by then becomes dead for the year. Since bills are still being introduced at such a fast pace, this obviously puts some pressure on legislators.
While the committee and subcommittee schedules are heating up in the background, all of the air in the Capitol building is being consumed by a few big issues - school funding, Medicaid managed care and the gas tax.
The school funding issue has taken a difficult turn as the House and Senate battle over what the State can afford to put toward this. The House passed legislation to increase school funding by 1.25% (or about $50 million), per the Governor's request. The Senate chose to not even take up the House bill, but to instead pass their own bill at 4%. Running a separate bill means a few more hurdles before an issue can advance to a conference committee to be resolved.
Expect the school funding issue to take a while longer to reach resolution. According to House Appropriations Chairman Chuck Soderberg, "while the state revenues are projected to increase approximately $200 million next year, the new dollars available are NOT adequate to cover a number of built-in expenses and prior commitments that exceed $457 million for the upcoming budget year." Soderberg estimates the increased costs of Medicaid to be more than $205 million by itself. The $50 million increase to schools coupled with that means cuts or savings have to be found elsewhere in state government, especially if school funding will increase by more than $50 million.
Speaking of Medicaid, anyone involved in any aspect of health care this week was tied up at the Capitol going through the recently released Request For Proposal (RFP) for managed care of Medicaid. The Governor is hoping that transitioning Iowa's Medicaid program over to a managed care program will save in the neighborhood of $50 million. Don't get too excited though about throwing that $50 million toward the deficit in the previous paragraph; it is already factored into those calculations. Sigh...
The last big issue at the Capitol, and the one that has probably graced your local news in the past 48 hours, is bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate to pass a transportation infrastructure funding bill that contains a ten-cent increase in the state gas tax. Since PDI supports this bill, we'll address that in the next article.