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Column: Protecting older Iowans - and protecting taxpayers

By DAVID JOHNSON, Iowa State Senator

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Legislature ended its eighth week by turning off the spigot after a flood of legislative proposals extending back to the previous week spilled over into full Senate debate. While most of the bills were “technical” corrections and updates to current state laws, a few will have a broader impact.

One of those bills has broad support among older Iowans. In a long-awaited move, the Senate approved a statewide program to protect older Iowans from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. The measure, which now goes to the House for consideration, provides an elder-abuse prevention, awareness and education specialist in each of Iowa’s six area agencies on aging.

Since 2001, northwest Iowa has been a leader in developing this program on a regional basis. Awareness of elder abuse is growing, and the issue will become even more significant as the number of older Iowans also grows, as well as their increased interest in staying in their own homes whenever possible. I spoke in favor of the bill and was pleased it won unanimous support.

Debate ended early this week, then legislators began to comb through the state budget as leaders of both parties presented their spending “targets” for next fiscal year. Each target represents the total spending cap in eight separate budget areas.

Here are a couple of highlights that I am interested in:

* Community college funding will increase by 4 percent, or $8 million.

* More than $4 million is proposed to continue the state’s nutrient management plan designed to conserve soil and improve water quality.

* An increase for the Iowa State Patrol — perhaps as much as $2 million, or enough to add as many as 20 new troopers.

* Further development is proposed for the Blood Run National Historic Landmark in western Lyon County along our border with South Dakota. This is a significant site, rich in cultural artifacts, where thousands of Native Americans once settled. The governor’s budget proposal includes $2 million for Blood Run.

* Some $128 million for property-tax replacement payments to local governments following last year’s tax reform legislation, the largest in state history.

* More than $300 million to help continue the transition to a regional system of delivering mental health and dis-ability services.

* A direct appropriation of $4 million to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University.

Of course, budget negotiations have just started and it will be a mammoth undertaking, with the final total falling around $7 billion. Each of the spending proposals listed above has my support, and we will likely see some compromises hammered out. But for the above to be funded, cuts have to be made in other areas of state spending.

We need to proceed with caution. We need to protect taxpayers. The initial targets represent a spending increase of more than 7 percent over the current budget. It goes without saying that household incomes and the overall state economy are not growing anywhere near that pace.

And consider this: Non-partisan analysts at the Capitol are projecting that state spending will overtake revenues in the next five years, leaving the state without a surplus. The non-partisan study assumes no recession. And we all know that federal spending is headed for a train wreck.

Public forums: Other northwest Iowa legislators and I will be at the following forums where you can hear updates, ask questions and give comments on legislation:

9-10:30 a.m. March 15 — Eggs and Issues, Spencer City Council Chambers.

8 a.m. March 29 — Forster Community Center, Rock Rapids.

Your questions and comments are always welcome. You can reach me in the Iowa Senate by calling (515) 281-3371 and leaving a message; or by e-mail at

David Johnson of Ocheyedan represents Iowa Senate District 3, which includes all of Clay, Dickinson, O’Brien and Osceola counties, and part of Sioux County.