Top GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Terry Branstad said Thursday they expected to move to end publicly funded abortions in Iowa if Republicans take full control of the General Assembly in the Nov. 6 election.
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, said GOP representatives passed an amendment to a human services budget bill last session to curtail taxpayer-financed abortions and her expectation was “we would no longer fund abortions with taxpayer dollars” when the House revisits the issue during the 2013 session to finalize a state budget bill dealing with human services programs and Medicaid funding.
“It’s my anticipation, if we have a Senate that would agree with that, that would be the amendment we would bring forth perhaps once again,” Upmeyer said during a news conference where Republicans laid out their unified state budgeting initiatives for the upcoming legislative biennium. Current state law provides exceptions for abortions in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity or to save the life of the mother.
Boone Sen. Jerry Behn, the GOP caucus leader who hopes to win control in November of a Senate chamber where Democrats now hold a 26-24 advantage, said he expected a newly elected GOP majority would approve the House language and send it to Branstad, a five-term Republican who indicated he would sign the legislation if it makes it to his desk.
“I think it’s something that we need to have everybody on the same wave length on. We’re in agreement on that. There has been a difference between the House and the Senate; this is another reason why we need a Senate that will work with the House and the governor, so we all have concurrence on that,” Branstad said. “I would say, yes, we’re all in agreement on that particular issue.”
Partisan deadlock over the abortion-funding issue prompted the split-control Legislature to adjourn last May without fully addressing human services funding and state Department of Human Services officials anticipate they will face a $52 million shortfall for the current fiscal year due to legislative underfunding of the current Medicaid program and state costs associated with the shift of mental health services from a county-based network to a regional delivery system.
“That was not an unintended omission,” Upmeyer said. “We intended fully to readdress this in January when we come back.”
Branstad said the state needs to do a better job of controlling and managing Medicaid costs that have grown from 12 percent to more than 18 percent of state spending. He did not specify what steps he would recommend to rein in Medicaid spending.
“I believe the Iowa voters deserve to know what we intend to do once we’re elected,” Branstad told the Council Bluffs news conference. However, the Republican trio also declined to specify how much additional money they would propose for K-12 schools and higher education during the two-year budgeting cycle that begins next July 1 and would not discuss pay raises for teachers or state employees other than to say they favor “a pay and benefits system that is fair to both employees and to the taxpayers.”
Under Iowa’s K-12 forward-funding law, the Legislature was supposed to adopt an “allowable growth” rate for K-12 school districts to operate under during the fiscal 2014 budget year. But the requirement went ignored and Branstad said he favors scrapping the approach in favor of a new method that targets resources to public schools in ways that improve student achievement, not just provide more money.
“Forget about allowable growth,” he said.
“Think anew. We’re not going to always do things the way we did things in the past because that hasn’t gotten us the kind of achievement that we want,” he added. “We’re willing to spend more resources, but we want to target those resources in ways that are going to get us higher achievement.” Details would be spelled out when he submits his two-year budget proposal to lawmakers in January, he added.
On another topic, Branstad said he was supportive of a state Board of Regents plan that would replace set-aside funds and possibly freeze or cut tuition at state universities but he wanted to see more details when the board makes its budget presentation to him in December. Board members indicated recently that resident undergraduates at Iowa’s state universities could see their tuition reduced by about $1,000 in fall 2014, if the Legislature funds a state regents plan for a $39.5 million financial aid program for Iowa’s neediest students.
The regents plan to ask the 2013 Legislature for the money to launch the state-funded aid program, which would replace the current tuition set-aside program at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. If the state provides the requested funding for the program, the regents in the following year — fall 2014 at the earliest — would reduce resident undergraduate tuition by the amount of funding the state provides. The tuition set-aside program, which came under fire this spring from some legislators and parents, could be replaced through additional fundraising by the university foundations – an approach the governor said he favored.
Other parts of the GOP budget plan included:
Legislative Democrats said they planned to focus on issues most important to Iowans.
“House Democrats are going to keep focused on growing our economy and strengthening Iowa’s middle class next year,” said Democratic House Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines. “Once again, Republicans want to pursue a divisive agenda that is out of touch with families and women. It’s time to put aside the divisive issues and work together to put Iowans back to work.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said his caucus would concentrate on investing in community colleges, providing targeted tax cuts and bolstering local schools. “If Republicans want to focus on what matters to middle-class Iowa families and small businesses, we are ready to work with them,” he said.