The second week of this legislative session has been a busy one, even though Monday was a national holiday, and we were not in session. Because of a shortened week, more committee blocks were scheduled in order stay on track. The committees I serve on all had good presentations this week, and members had ample time to ask questions.
Chuck Gipp, Acting Director of the Department of Natural Resources filled us in on what was happening in regards to Chronic Wasting Disease in deer here in Iowa, and what is being done to stop its spread. He also discussed the current dry period we are in and how it could affect water supplies, trees, and obviously our crops. There is still a looming threat to ash trees in the state, and I believe this will be a difficult problem to deal with. Director Gipp also explained some of the differences in duties and responsibilities between his Department and the Department of Agriculture. Although they work together as much as possible, there are certain areas each is responsible for. Director Gipp answered a variety of questions relating to conservation, hunting, fishing, water quality, and lake restoration. It was a good presentation.
On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee heard a presentation from DOT Director Paul Trombino. He reviewed funding sources for the Department and described the programming process as to how roads and bridges are constructed or repaired. In Iowa, there are about 114,700 miles of roadway, with 90,000 of that being county roads. There are 24,800 bridges, and over 19,000 are county structures. It is obvious our counties are responsible for the majority of the roads and bridges, and construction dollars can only go so far. In Iowa, we are beginning to fall behind as far as transportation infrastructure is concerned. Fuel taxes are assessed on a per-gallon basis, so the more gallons one burns, more taxes will be paid. I saw an interesting chart the other day that showed total miles of vehicle travel in Iowa peaked in about 2004. In other words, fewer driven miles means less gallons of fuel sold, which means less tax dollars. So, you can see how easy it is to lag behind in repairs. We all demand good roads, but we also must figure out a way to pay for what we want. Will the fuel tax be raised this session? The answer is. . . nobody knows. The pressure is on to raise the fuel taxes, so we will see how things progress. Feel free to let me know what you think of this issue.
I am a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and on Wednesday, Holly Lyons, Director of the Fiscal Services Division gave us an overview of the Governor's proposed budget and an assessment of the health of the State's economy. In some ways, our economy looks to be in pretty good health. On the other hand, there are some signs that the economic recovery is slow, and it will take several more years of solid growth before we get to pre-recession levels in housing and employment. Most areas of taxation continue to show a positive trend and total revenues are ahead of last year by about 9%. However, widely available economic indicators of employment and income are only slightly positive, indicating our economy is still weak, and any unexpected "jolt" could cause serious problems. But overall, we are still in a positive position, and this is great compared to many other states.
I am running out of space, but wanted to list a few of the Governor's budget recommendations. The following are all increases, and as the session progresses, there will be adjustments to these numbers, and I will keep you informed as to what transpires. Again, these are all increases: Economic Development - $25.7 million; Board of Regents - $26.9 million; College Student Aid Commission - $6.4 million; Mental Health Redesign (Medicaid) - $30 million; Judicial Branch - $5.7 million (the Governor is required by law to pass through the Courts' budget request); Full Funding for Property Tax Credits - $33.3 million; K-12 Education Reform - $14 million; Community Colleges - $10 million; Medicaid - $109.4 million; Dept. of Corrections - $6.4 million; Department of Public Safety - $2.95 million.
We had many visitors at the Capitol this week including Veterans, pork producers, optometrists, soybean association members, nurses, healthcare employees and retirement community representatives. It is great to have people visit, so if you are planning a trip to Des Moines, please let me know and I would be honored to have you as my guest here at the Capitol.
You can reach me at the Capitol during the week by phoning me at 515-281-3221, or at home on weekends at 712-434-5880. You may write to me at the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. My home address is 304 East 6th, P. O. Box 398, Aurelia, Iowa 51005. If you have email, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.