- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa government spending would be stagnant in its next state budget under a plan released Wednesday by Republican lawmakers, a proposal they acknowledged could mean cuts for some departments in order to meet promised spending in other areas such as K-12 education.

The joint spending targets, which total roughly $7.2 billion, would go into effect for the budget year that begins in July. It’s about $14 million less than the current budget.

Republicans earlier this year slashed the current budget by more than $110 million to plug a budget shortfall, in part by cutting spending for state agencies, community colleges and public universities. They also agreed to use more than $130 million from a rainy day fund to plug a second shortfall.

GOP lawmakers have vowed to repay the dip in cash reserves within two years and keep a commitment to spend about $40 million more on K-12 education in the upcoming budget year.

It means other areas of state government will take a hit in the process, though the details will be unclear until lawmakers piece together the bills that ultimately will make up the budget.

David Roederer, a chief budget official for Gov. Terry Branstad, said such reduced spending from one budget year to the next is rare. GOP lawmakers also acknowledged it’s not common, though they argued it was necessary to balance the budget amid revenue constraints.

“It doesn’t happen very often, but I think again we’ve put together a responsible budget,” said Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

A state panel that makes budget projections has repeatedly reduced expected revenue over the past few months, stating that receipts are coming in at a slower than expected rate. Different groups have different perspectives on what’s causing the decline, and Democrats have criticized tax credit spending and the use of surplus dollars.

But the minority party will have little legislative power to stop Republicans and their proposed spending plan.

“Their budget will not build the skilled workforce we need or protect Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Branstad released a revised budget recommendation last month that also lowered spending in response to the shortfalls, though he proposed about $38 million more than Republicans in the Legislature.

Still, the governor’s office offered support for the GOP plan. Spokesman Ben Hammes said in an email “we have worked hand in hand” to reach the targets. It indicates Republican lawmakers could approve a state budget and adjourn within weeks.

It’s now up to GOP-led budget committees to finalize the expected spending cuts. Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he believes the public understands their reasoning.

“I would like to think that citizens would think we’re budgeting responsibly, and making sure that we have enough revenues to carry over into next year and to adequately prepare ourselves for what could be a continuous slow period of growth,” he said.

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