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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

The Johnson Report

Saturday, January 26, 2013

On schools and seniors

David Johnson
In his Condition of the State message to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate on Jan. 15, Gov. Terry Branstad laid out his priorities: property tax relief, education reform and health care. One week later, education - specifically, proposed budget increases - dominated the Senate agenda.

Democrats, who hold a slim majority in the Senate, are balking at Branstad's call to address education reform - including grants for certified teachers who agree to teach in Iowa; better-paid, better trained teachers and higher student achievement - before more money is provided to the state's 348 school districts.

Republicans, on the other hand, want to see a bipartisan effort to improve our schools while at the same time recognizing that local school officials are planning their budgets and need to know soon how much state aid will be available. The Senate Education Committee, on which I serve, will vote later today on a proposal for a 4-percent increase next fiscal year in "allowable growth" - or supplemental funding that drives the state school aid formula.

The 4-percent proposal would cost nearly $135 million. In a separate bill, the Democrats would provide almost $40 million from the state to prevent an increase in local property taxes that would result from the allowable growth legislation.

Many, if not most Iowans believe in raising student achievement and having the best teachers possible in the classroom. I am hesitant, however, to simply opening the taxpayers' pocketbook without taking serious steps now on the governor's education reform plan.

To be sure, it is not a perfect plan. But it is a starting point and one we should be debating along with negotiating with the governor. Politics is the art of the possible, it's been said. For some legislators, however, political points count more. Have we not learned any lessons from Congress?

Also this week: In the Human Resources Committee, we received an update on the reorganization of the Area Agencies on Aging. When completed, the consolidation will reduce the number of regional Agencies on Aging from 13 to six. I have been very concerned about this reorganization, which will place services to our older Iowans in a new 29-county region based in Mason City.

Department on Aging Director Donna Harvey told committee members she is confident that services for seniors will be maintained. I will continue to monitor this new plan and look forward to hearing comments from seniors and advocates for older Iowans.

Often heard in these parts: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is going to send an army of inspectors into Iowa to enforce the provisions of the Clean Water Act and other federal regulations. Not so, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp told the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee. He said DNR "has been a very collaborative partner with EPA," noting that EPA continues to authorize DNR to ensure compliance with federal laws.

Most of the headlines have drawn a target on animal feeding operations. Gipp expressed confidence in DNR to meet EPA orders for inspecting livestock operations. The department had requested 13 additional inspectors; the governor's budget proposal provides funding for five additional DNR inspectors. Importantly, Gipp emphasized that regulatory compliance is not just about livestock. It's also about towns and cities and their wastewater systems.

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:

Saturday, Feb. 2, 8:30 a.m. - Chamber of Commerce/Iowa Welcome Center, Emmetsburg.

Saturday, Feb. 9, 9-10:30 a.m. - Eggs and Issues, Spencer City Council Chambers

Saturday, Feb. 9, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. - Hedberg Theater, Maritime Museum, Arnolds Park.

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@legis.iowa.gov

David Johnson, of Ocheyedan, represents Iowa Senate District 1 - all of Clay, Dickinson, Lyon, Osceola and Palo Alto counties.

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